Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
That uncomfortable moment when you walk out of your boss’s cabin feeling visually molested. That’s what I felt every time I would drop into his office, which was every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. On alternate days, he would go to the other branches. It was hard enough to discuss work in his cabin. I had to dodge every lustful bullet gaze that he targeted towards me. At first, I thought his eyes were naturally droopy, plus he was in his 70s. How was I to know, until the office boy pointed out to me that my boss was a cunning scanner?
I started to carry some extra files with me from then on. I would cover my already covered-up professional attire with those files before entering his cabin. This was my first stage of denial. I thought that if I consciously covered myself with objects, I would be able to navigate his attention to my work rather than myself. He stared nonetheless. It was awkward and self-deprecating to my aspirations of being a working professional.
Looking back 10 years from now, would I have responded in the same manner or spoken-up? I don’t know. My boss would stare, but he never did anything more than that. The news articles that I have read — women have had experiences way worse than mine. But none of us should have to go through even an inch of this experience. Yet, we go through them and seldom have the understanding of what to do next or how to respond in these situations. It is essential, therefore, to be trained to identify sexual harassment and to know what your next steps should be.
First things first, I didn’t even realize that I was being ogled at until it was made clear to me by the office boy who had been working there for more than 7 years. I worked there for 3 years and then left for better prospects.
There are two types of oglers, at least of which I have come across. The first kind is the ones you have the misfortune of meeting while travelling in public places. These could include metros, trains, platforms, etc. They continue to stare at you until you finally have to confront them. The second kind is the type my boss was. This type of ogling is usually done slyly. You can’t really say what they’re doing. So you can’t really complain with any substantial proof.
But these, as I said, are not the only experiences women have had of being ogled at; they’ve experienced worse scenarios and I am lucky to not be in their shoes. So what does sexual harassment at work constitute? Here’s what I’ve found:
If preventive measures were put into effect by all companies, there would have been some form of monitoring of unwelcomed behaviour. Here’s why I wish I knew about PoSH training. Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) is training required to help all working professionals understand and practice appropriate behaviour at work with colleagues and subordinates. It is required to sensitise administrators towards incidents reported and also train the internal committee at work to deal with grievances of such nature.
When is the right time to complain? Right away! Often, the victim remains silent about these incidents and lets the matter slip away until it may be too late. Although it is not easy to face these unfortunate circumstances, it is strongly recommended that the victim of sexual harassment notify the company management at the earliest.
There are various experienced and professional PoSH trainers. The objective is to find the right consultant to suit your company’s purposes for its employees. PoSH guidelines are to be followed stringently. This involves periodic training given to employees, other staff and even the senior management.
I was genuinely hesitant to stand up for myself. Sometimes, I wish I could have done something, but it proved rather complicated for me to process my next steps. Companies should establish measures to prevent any form of sexual harassment at work. This can include the formation of procedures to enable women employees to approach management comfortably should there be an unforeseen event of this nature. They should be able to bring a complaint without fear of losing their job or reputation of character.
A safer workplace is a productive workplace.