#MeToo: How can the industry create a safer, harassment-free workplace?

A day-long panel discussion series hosted by Firstpost along with other dignitaries discussed how a safer workplace environment can be created

Metoo Firstpost Megha Pant

It’s amazing how India's #MeToo movement arrived in a cascade of allegations as women took to Twitter to call out comedians, journalists, authors, actors and filmmakers - in the process, they have sparked a debate about consent and complicity. Amplified by journalists themselves, it hit the media hardest! That said, how can a safer, and inclusive work environment be created? #MeToo conversations, a Firstpost initiative witnessed a day-long panel discussion series moderated by award-winning writer Meghna Pant which dived into it all.

The conversations got journalists like Sandhya Menon, Rituparna Chatterjee ,Writer Mahima Kukreja, legal experts like Mrunalini Deshmukh and Vandana Shah, writer/entrepreneur Rashmi Bansal and advocate Rutuja Shinde, among others on board. Deshmukh spelled out the Vishakha Guidelines and explained how employees could seek help. “If the water-cooler conversations are still going to be sexist, then things are not going to change,” said Pant, talking about the longevity of the #MeToo movement in India. The conversations also revolved around whether companies are effectively using the Vishakha Guidelines.

“My concern is the companies in the retail sector where you don’t have an HR member available constantly,” said Deepa Bhatia, who works as a statistician. Menon suggested that media houses should have two reporters dedicated to #MeToo coverage for the next one year.

Advocate Sonal Mattoo, Film Editor Deepa Bhatia, Indira Rangarajan the National Programming Head for Radio Mirchi, and Ramkumar Krishnaswamy the founder of Leadership Centre discussed how companies deal with sexual harassment at the workplace. Krishnaswamy said that workplaces in India need to create stronger support cultures. "The support structures should be well-prepared, and it should be publicised that these resources exist," he said. They contended that in the media industry, the culture in many companies is casual but people must learn what boundaries to maintain.

It highlighted that out-of-office meetings remains one of the places where companies fail to protect women. Speakers maintained that the process of lodging a complaint should be made easier. Krishnaswamy suggested that senior management must ensure that the workplace is a safe environment. “Senior management's creation of a toxic culture is what breeds sexual harassment, not just policy loopholes. You cannot perpetuate boys' clubs," he said.

Bhatia highlighted that after reams of researching on sexual harassment at the workplace, it came to her notice that many of the women who had faced it, would speak of it to their friends, or they would approach HR (instead of the Internal Committee constituted to deal with such cases). "Sexual harassment is a huge challenge for HR departments," she said.

Mattoo opined that simple measures like displaying the contact numbers of resources in women's washrooms encouraged more women to report cases of harassment. "Many women feel powerless because their perpetrators are emboldened and have a clear modus operandi," she said. Krishnaswamy emphasised the need to engage men, as without their participation, the movement won't go anywhere. "The shift (for organisations) needs to be from compliance to culture. Women don't feel safe to come out and talk. The formal structure is not sufficient. We should create support structures where women can come out and talk. Culture is being able to tell people that when you travel don't call a woman to dinner in your room," he reasoned.
 

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