Have we outsourced sexual harassment?
As Western companies increasingly turn to Indian labor, they must be willing to acknowledge and confront widespread sexual harassment of female employees in India.
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As told by Kaul, Nokia made the assumption that because it established the structure for reporting, MJ Sonia would have reported the problem. What Nokia Siemens failed to say, which is well known in India, is that it is socially unacceptable to complain about your superior. According to statistics compiled by the Centre, more than 91 percent of women who experience sexual harassment do not report because they fear victimization. When they contemplate reporting the boss, who is the perpetuator of sexual harassment 72 percent of the time, women again and again choose not to.Skip to next paragraph
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Nokia Siemens did what most firms do when entering India; they brought their homegrown human resource practices with them, setting up a structure that failed because of cultural inhibitors. These structures are modeled around the principal that women will report. Women fear reporting the problem and organizations, however accidentally, continue to make it hard to overcome this obstacle.
Firms like Nokia Siemens, if they are looking, will find it challenging to understand best practices that work inside India. Infosys, one of India’s largest outsourcers, established an Anti-Sexual Harassment Initiative (ASHI) around the same time this suicide occurred, offering a reporting mechanism for employees. Infosys well understands the costs of sexual harassment: In 2003, it paid out $3 million to an assistant of Phaneesh Murthy, an Infosys board member at the time, after she sued Murthy in the state of California for sexual harassment.
While Infosys may understand the problem, its results are dismal. According to Infosys’s Sustainability Report 2009-2010, 7 "significant" cases of sexual harassment were heard and resolved by ASHI. It is difficult to imagine that in a population, by my estimates, of at least 30,000 women working for Infosys in India, there were only 7 instances of sexual harassment. Using the Centre’s numbers as a guide, 22,500 of Infosys’ women (88 percent) are likely to have experienced sexual harassment. That's a far cry from 7.
Nasscom, the consortium in India charged with setting policy for the information technology community, started a sexual harassment education workshop for outsourcers in 2009. “We want to increase the number of women employed in [our] sector,” Som Mittal, Nasscom’s president was quoted as saying. Nasscom has a long way to go with this initiative; only 64 industry representatives have attended the two workshops it hosted over the past two years. This disappointing attendance, however, appears to be enough for Mittal who was quoted in December, 2010 in the Times of India saying; “India’s new millennium workplace has moved beyond issues like sexual harassment, especially in the sunrise sectors.”
Mittal’s sentiment is not shared by the Indian government. It is trying to help by pushing through legislation called Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill. The Vishakha Guidelines, the Indian Supreme Court directive compelling organizations to have a viable system in place to report sexual harassment was put forward in 1997. The next step was supposed to be a law. It has taken more than a decade to get a sexual harassment bill this far through India’s legislative process.