In a recent interview with a department head at a manufacturing company, he said “I am not against gender diversity. In my family, women work and are at successful posts. In fact, I had a female team member a few months back. Out of courtesy, I dropped her home at the end of the work day, 2-3 times. This resulted in gossip in our company. It made both me and her uncomfortable. She eventually quit, for other reasons. But, now I am uncomfortable about hiring women. I don’t want any one else, as well as myself, to go through such experience again.”

Two thoughts struck me

1.    Both the manager and the employee got victimized for no fault of theirs. And there was no organizational recourse, despite the existence of POSH. (Also, it was the lady who quit and moved on!)
2.    Having experienced this myself nearly 18 years back, has nothing changed in so many years?

I would like to share my thoughts here on both the points.

The first point being POSH and its implementation. It is a much-needed act, designed to prevent and solve for harassment at the workplace. That being said, It’s implementation is still patchy and a tick mark! I have heard opinions ranging from “Yes, there was a POSH training and we have a committee, but not too sure about how this works” to “POSH is a tool for women to misuse”. People are still not comfortable about voicing out concerns and the act has not been implemented in ‘spirit’. What is needed is a thorough awareness exercise with all employees in the organization being clear about what POSH entails. How even malicious gossip is harassment, how quitting is not the only solution, how even male managers can be victims and so on. It is not once a year activity, will need significant knowledge building and awareness drives.

On the second point, the issue is much deeper. Deep routed mindsets and biases that slot men and women in a certain manner or have stereo typical views on interactions between the two genders. These get manifested in behaviors at the workplace leading to non-inclusive environments. Hiring decisions, Promotion decisions, Appraisal ratings all get impacted and there is nothing that is being done to question, counter and stop these mindsets. In fact, some of these are justified with comments like “We can’t change the way the society thinks” to “It’s natural for priorities of women to change. After all family and kids are more important”. Topical policies won’t help unless people get into conversations and committed actions around dealing with such gender based biases.

In my opinion, organizations today are poised at a juncture where there is awareness about how gender diversity can be beneficial and is just not a “Good to do”. The only thing required is to approach this with a consistent, holistic long-term strategy that addresses all aspects- from POSH to mindsets…. And see the power of diversity unleashed.

Author: Sonica Aron

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