#Metoo and how HR leaders can save further damage

The emergence of the #MeToo movement is remarkable as it has enabled women to openly discuss and disclose instances of harassment at workplace. What we have witnessed so far might just be the beginning of more disclosures. Within the last one month, the discourse at the workplace has seen a dramatic shift and a renewed focus on prevention of harassment. The #MeToo movement has been, in way a lesson for all HR professionals on the importance of being vigilant against all forms of  workplace harassment in general and sexual harassment in particular, and of taking proactive measures to prevent it. 

The key to address this is to bring awareness amongst the employees on the expected norms of behavior in interpersonal interactions. On one side, HR professionals should build a culture in the organization which has zero tolerance for harassment. On the other side, HR should also ensure a conducive environment wherein reporting of incidents is encouraged, and reported incidents are dealt with full transparency but adequate discretion at the same time. Ensuring sufficient protection of victims, avoiding victim-shaming and maintaining confidentiality are must-haves while addressing and investigating sexual harassment cases.  

Organizations should have considerable focus in sensitizing people on gender identity and sexual orientation. It is important to observe gender neutrality while discussing sexual harassment. Trainings should be relooked and re-designed to sensitize people on what constitutes sexual harassment, how they can report incidents, and what are the redressal mechanisms and consequences. Trainings in particular should emphasize on reporting and intervention by the ‘bystander’. It is said when you see something, say something. Co-workers are the best vigilance partners and they should be encouraged and empowered to intervene and to bring any act of harassment to the notice of the management. 

Organizational policies against sexual harassment need to be strengthened. Policies should clearly state all the behaviors that an organization wants to prevent. Reporting mechanisms and processes to deal with violations and reported incidents should be clearly defined and communicated. Since cases might come from high offices, adequate mechanisms for victim and whistle-blower protection are needed.  

The last and final cog in the wheel is execution. Merely having policies and guidelines means nothing unless they are executed efficiently on-ground. It is seen that HR professionals are themselves not equipped in dealing and recognizing sexual harassment cases. Intensive training and validation on identification and redressal should be imparted to all HR functionaries who are in people-facing roles.

Another area which is largely neglected is recruitment. It’s a common practice to rely solely on functional competence when making an offer for employment. The aspect that goes missing is cultural fitment. HR leaders in many cases are not even trained to assess cultural fitment of potential recruits. One needs to keep vigil so that the gates of the organization are not thrown open to a potential violator of established norms.

 

Focused trainings, robust policies and efficient redressal mechanisms are not enough. All these initiatives should be supported by a strong sponsorship from the leaders of the organization. Company heads establish the organization's core values and its business environment, and set the course for what's acceptable in the workplace.Any attempt at changing behavior and culture should start at the very top for the attempt to be successful. When leaders ‘walk the talk’, employees follow suit. Top management sponsorship is the key to providing a healthy, equitable and harassment-free workplace. 


The following article has been authored by Mr Praveer Priyadarshi, Chief Human Resource Officer Jindal Stainless.

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