Tackling workplace / sexual harassment

One morning, the Proprietor of a financial products marketing company called the Sales Coordinator to his room and asked her why she, usually a very cheerful person, had been very quiet during the last few Daily Sales Meetings.

When she gave him an evasive reply, he pointed out that if she was being weighed down by any personal or family matter, she was not obliged to discuss it with him. However, if she was facing any problem or pressure at work, it was her duty to inform him. He assured her that she need not have any fear about the repercussions of reporting any matter to him.

During the six months that she had worked with this company, the Sales Coordinator had realised that the Proprietor was a principled and trustworthy person. Yet, she was hesitant to speak. Sensing her hesitation, he asked her point blank, “Which member of the sales team is bothering you?” Taken aback, she blurted, “Sales Manager.”

To start with, the Proprietor asked her if the Sales Manager had subjected her to any form of physical or verbal sexual harassment. She replied in the negative. Then, he told her that since it might be embarrassing for her to speak about the matter, she should immediately give him a confidential memo describing the matter in detail.

The two-page memo described a series of incidents during the last few weeks in which the Sales Manager had subjected the Sales Coordinator to harassment. He had also told her that, if she complained against him, she would be in trouble because, in view of his experience and his excellent rapport with the company’s important customers, he was very important to the company while she was still in the 12 months’ probation period. Worst of all was the fact that, on a number of occasions, he had telephoned her late in the evening and spoken harshly to her on all occasions.

The latest mobile phone bills had been received the previous day. The call records in the Sales Manager’s phone bill revealed the dates, times and durations of 6 late evening calls to the Sales Coordinator during the previous 30 days.

The Proprietor asked the Sales Coordinator one last question: did she know why the Sales Manager was harassing her? She replied that, as far as she knew, the Sales Manager was under severe stress due to some family problems; she was a convenient outlet for his frustration because he was confident that she, a woman in a support function, could not hit back. She was quite sure that she had not done anything to incur his wrath.

The Proprietor told her that he would confront the Sales Manager about this matter that very evening. He would tell the Sales Manager that the Sales Coordinator had not complained on her own; she had informed him about this matter only after he
had demanded to be told the reason for her indifferent behaviour over the last few days.

The Proprietor confronted the Sales Manager about the matter that evening. He told him that such behaviour was not acceptable under any circumstances. Frequent late evening calls to a female employee by a male senior would be construed as sexual harassment unless proved otherwise; the Sales Manager could be in serious trouble if this matter went further. He was told that he should apologise unconditionally to the Sales Coordinator and should desist from such behaviour in future. Otherwise, suitable action would be taken against him.

The Sales Manager was stunned. He had never expected to hear the Proprietor speak like this to him. He immediately apologised to the Proprietor and assured him that this would not happen in future. The next morning, he apologised to the Sales Coordinator. The harassment stopped.

Workplace / sexual harassment in any organisation can be prevented, or reduced to a very substantial extent, only if the management is known to have ZERO tolerance towards such harassment, even when the perpetrator is a key employee.

Other posts on Humanism and Sexual Harassment:
If a girl is being sexually harassed …
Thwarting sexual harassers, Reducing sexual harassment
If a woman tells you she has been raped …
What happens after rape? What should happen?


12 thoughts on “Tackling workplace / sexual harassment

  1. The proprietor was right in handling the sexual harassment and bringing the matter to a close.
    Sometime back a partner of one of Mumbai’s leading professional firms was involved in sexual harassment of a female fellow professional. Protesting in public attracted wide media attention. Neither the firm of which he was a partner nor the Regulator initiated any steps for misconduct.

    • Unfortunately, many managements have a ‘practical’ attitude to workplace/sexual harassment. If the perpetrator is a key employee, they ignore the matter or hush it up. If it becomes too much, the victim is transferred or eased out of her job.

  2. I am glad the Proprietor was decent and took action. I had a similar experience during my “corporate” days and was gratified when the management listened to both sides before they took their decision. Thanks for sharing this, Pro.

    • If the management is known to have ZERO tolerance towards such harassment, even when the perpetrator is a key employee, people are less likely to attempt harassment of others. If harassment does take place, the victim is more likely to complain, confident that the matter will be handled fairly.

  3. The Proprietor was perceptive enough to notice the change in the lady’s behavior and probed her. Otherwise, I wonder if the girl would have ever told anybody else and would have endured
    this nonsense for God knows how long! The Proprietor handled it in a mature way!

    • One common aspect of all kinds of abuse/harassment is the reluctance of the victim to report the matter. In business organisations, the management should create an atmosphere where victims of harassment would feel secure that they would get justice if they complain.

  4. I wish all managers and management team members were as proactive as this Proprietor.

    It works fine when the action is taken with proper evidence to support. Management must always seek evidence before acting. Many a times, people misuse the zero-tolerance to their benefit. It is not always an assault or harassment, sometimes it is just a malpractice or a silly revenge. People need to grow up and be more mature.

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