Anyone who believes that the Women’s Protection Bill will lead to “gender equality, life and liberty and sense of security at the workplace” that the Bill proposes, has no clue about the water-tight male-dominated ecosystem in which professional women are working in urban areas, and rural women are working on the farmlands of India.
As the figures will indicate, professional women constitute more than 40% of the professional work force in urban areas–but less than 3-4% of women are occupying positions of decision making, leadership, CEOs, or organization heads. There are reasons for this dismal lack of women in powerful positions. It is not because women are less talented, and cannot be competitive in a “meritocracy” based workplace but simply because there is a clear gender stereotype, and unconscious or conscious gender bias against women, that ensures that they do not occupy the “head table” in boardrooms or corner offices, or institution directorships.
This is clear manifestation of “sexual harassment” – in its simplest and most widely accepted form –that will never be impacted by the proposed Bill.
Women from across sectors, industries, functions, and from all levels of work continue to openly express their distress with the unequal ecosystem for women in the work place, and their own “sad” experience of gender bias in male attitudes, behaviours, and conspiracy in the workplace that continues to impact their promotions and careers. At the entry level, young women entrants become victims to sexual harassment from their male managers, in the form of “sexist remarks” on their dress, personality, or just their demeanor! Many of them become deeply emotional as they express their stories and try to get some counseling for their dropping confidence levels that seem to negate their professional ambitions and belief in good ethics. What will the Bill do for these young women–who can never speak about their gender bias challenges in public or to their supervisors?
The mid-level women professionals seem to be full of resignation and some bitterness towards a system where their male colleagues have shot past them in careers and promotions, and they have been left to “rust” due to stereotypes of “family responsibilities” which is clear case of “sexual harassment” that the Bill can never resolve.
And, at the top level of the organizations, CEOs and HR Heads ensure that all cases of sexual harassment are dealt with an “internal” committee, headed by corporate HR or Personnel Officer and the matter is deemed as closed, even before it is opened! There is a real case of a very talented woman from a highly respected company who received sexual harassment from the Chief Operating Officer and could not bring it to the notice of the CEO as she did not want to be kept out of the future “race to the top”. What will the Bill do to protect her career or state of mind from reporting the sexual harassment to the senior leadership of the organization?
As member of an Independent Sexual Harassment Committee in a large Indian company, I have had a firsthand experience of a real life case, listened hard to the evidence from both sides but I think that the case was “closed” even before the company invited the Committee members. While we did not find any evidence to the contrary, the Bill was only referred to as a reference “check list” as if it has no soul, no heart, and no capacity to heal the wounds.
(Poonam Barua is the Founder Chairman of the Forum for Women in Leadership and CEO of WILL Forum India. She is working on leveraging the talent pool of women and sharing best practices for women in the workplace and mentoring them for leadership roles. )