Let’s Talk

I just finished watching the documentary ‘Untouchable’ that showcases the Harvey Weinstein story and traces the journey of his sexual exploitation of women. The key theme that ran throughout was ‘How did he get away with it for so long?’

For centuries women have been sexually exploited/harassed by either men in power (for a working woman this could be her boss) or by someone whom they have known all their lives and/or strangers. And almost 60% of these cases go unreported.

A survey carried out by the Global Women in PR (GWPR) that interviewed more than 650 PR professionals around the world between July-August 2019 shows how deep this problem is and how urgently we need to address it. 

33% of the women surveyed have experienced sexual harassment, or experienced inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace

29% of women experienced it in a previous working environment, while for 7% it occurred in their current workplace

The survey included women in senior positions as well (54% held the position of Director) as well as managers. When asked about who behaved inappropriately, the top responses are very telling:

51% were sexually harassed by their colleague

41% claimed inappropriate behavior by their boss

Clients, journalists and others make up for the rest of the responses.

Not surprisingly, only one third of the working women who had experienced sexual harassment at their workplace, reported about it.

What is it that keeps women away from forget, reporting, even talking about it? I go back to the documentary ‘Untouchable’ wherein one of the victims says that the moment it started, the freeze thing kicked in. It was though the mind and body both froze. Another said, ‘I didn’t go to the police because I was terrified that he would say it was consensual.’ One of the women said, ‘You are an employee – you are not in a position to question your boss’s intentions.’

Each of the above resonates across the globe. It does not matter which country you belong to. Women go through these anxieties and uncertainties. 

As women fellow beings of this community, we need to stand up and support our colleagues. We need to offer them a shoulder to lean on, an environment wherein they can open up one-on-one with full confidentiality. That is what an internal office Policy for Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) committee is supposed to offer.

However, a lot of working women (35%) are not aware of any policy in their workplace that would support them. Or perhaps, it has never been widely communicated so they do not know whom to turn to. Or perhaps, there is no proper training in place to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. Clearly, something had to be done. There had to be an impartial, confidential platform for women to reach out and talk.

 A couple of months ago, the GWPR- India chapter was kicked off. Many of us from this community are founding board members. We were so eager to have a launch event, but the COVID-19 situation made us look at alternate modes of reaching out to our women colleagues in the PR & Communications business. Quite a few of you readers are already a member of this chapter that is thriving at LinkedIn and on Facebook.

Recently we have initiated our ‘Let’s Talk’ wherein you can connect with some of the leaders of the business for 1×1 confidential discussions. Those discussions could be about sexual harassment. Or it could be about a career transition. Or growing as a leader. Perhaps about mentoring. Or perhaps you just need a listening ear.

Do reach out to us anytime. This is the time to be around the community and support one another. We look forward to hearing from you. Write to us at Is@engendered.co 

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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