Monday, August 23, 2010

Men are as vulnerable to sexual harassment as Women at Workplace : Every fifth worker sexually harassed

Men are as vulnerable to sexual harassment as Women at workplace issues: Every fifth worker sexually harassed

NEW DELHI: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s sensational and irate emailed criticism of the Hewlett-Packard board for firing its CEO Mark V Hurd over an alleged sexual harassment charge earlier this month uncovered the basic paradox that has bedevilled a solution to a modern day malaise in the workplace.

“The HP board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago.” Mr Ellison thundered, adding, “In losing Mark Hurd, the HP board failed to act in the best interest of HP’s employees, shareholders, customers and partners...”

In recent times, high profile exits of top executives on charges of sexual misconduct have been cropping up at regular intervals. For every name that hits the headlines, murky questions swirl around others that do not. But since almost all cases are settled out of court, including the two most well-documented cases involving Indians, Infosys’ then US head Phaneesh Murthy in 2002 and Penguin Canada’s David Davidar in 2010, consequent gag orders prevent any further probes about either the veracity and extent of the charges or the considerations that led to their ouster.

The fact is, however, that as more and more Indians come into the workplace, sexual harassment in that sphere has become a malaise that cannot be denied or wished away. Part of the problem stems from the forced cosmopolitanism of offices and shopfloors, as people from varied social milieus are thrown together.

Popular culture and mass media add their bit by propagating new ‘accepted’ modes of conduct that sit uneasily with basic, traditional personal codes. The pressure to conform leads to unwelcome behaviour and body language that often gets lost in translation. Result: Complaints of transgressions, real and imagined.

The results of the ET-Synovate survey appear to bolster that argument as Bangalore, the melting pot of the IT industry, has emerged as the place with the maximum number of people (50%) who said that they have been sexually harassed at their workplace, whereas Chennai with a far less-diverse workforce appears to be the least troubled. Of the 527 executives polled, one in every five said they had been sexually harassed at their workplace.

The startling statistic that 38% of the respondents (more than half of them from Hyderabad and Mumbai) believe men are as vulnerable to sexual harassment as women, shows that improper behaviour, and rules to curb it, can cut both ways.

At the other end of the spectrum, companies have to walk a razor’s edge between providing a tension-free atmosphere conducive to productive work and dealing with the consequences of the use and abuse of Supreme Court dictated tenets that, in theory, now guide office behaviour till a law is passed by Parliament. Ellison’s gripe is a very real dilemma that companies face at the top end: If a CEO is good for the balancesheet, should all other infractions be condoned? Result: An unhappy trade-off between bottomline losses and pay-out for damages in an imminent sexual harassment case.

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