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Compliance to Culture: Workplace Sensitisation

Arjun Paleri and Harinie Seenivasan

 

“There is a significant gender gap in the labour market, with low rates of female labour force participation. This gender gap in the LFPR[1] has remained almost consistent over the past two decades” reads the latest report[2] of ILO on employment trends in India. While India's labour laws and government policies are significantly trying to create job opportunities for women, little seems to come out of these efforts. Although a significant portion of this futility can be attributed to a lack of access to education/opportunities for women, the hostile workplace is also an equal contributor to the setbacks.

 

The standard approach taken by organisations against discrimination seems to be a reactive approach (often ineffective) where actions are taken once a flag is raised. While this may check the boxes, it is not a holistic approach towards developing a safe workplace for employees, especially women.

 

Workplace Sensitisation and the Law

In a day and age where organisations highly value diversity and inclusivity, workplace sensitisation will go a long way in aiding companies with creating awareness on different topics. While no umbrella law in India requires employers to account for workplace sensitisation, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“PoSH Act”) imposes obligations that encourage workplace sensitisation.

 

Under the PoSH Act, organisations are required to provide training, organise workshops and carry out awareness programmes for their employees and the members of the internal complaints committee. Most organisations offer annual training or bi-annual training to meet this requirement. However, the PoSH training, by itself, may not sufficiently cover all aspects of workplace sensitisation, as it is a continuous activity that must be built into the culture of the organisation.

 

Compliance to culture: Where to start?

For workplace sensitisation to be truly effective, it must be omnipresent and consistently applied to the everyday business of the organisation. The following points can be considered:

 

  • Hiring culture: Most organisations focus on diversity in recruitment by looking for candidates from diverse backgrounds. However, to do this effectively, managers will require a deep understanding of different dimensions of diversity, bias and discrimination. Organisations should start by (i) ensuring that their recruiter pool is diverse, which could largely aid in providing different perspectives, and (ii) providing diversity training to the recruiters.

  • Training: Most organisations opt for an audio-visual training to fulfil the requirements under the PoSH Act, which may be insufficient as employees are not provided the environment to discuss freely.  Trainings that are engaging and interactive will allow employees to understand the legal process and think ahead of the legal process. Organisations should also provide additional training to their employees, such as training for unconscious bias and psychological safety training, as the legally mandated trainings are often limited to sexual harassment.  

  • Providing managers with necessary skillsets – Managerial-level trainings often focuses on the organisation’s internal processes to handle complaints and grievances. While these trainings are crucial to handle grievances effectively, they most often do not cover the root cause of such grievances- lack of diversity and sensitivity. Organisations should also consider providing sensitivity training to help managers understand the issues holistically.

  • Culture of Respect – A culture of respect values all employees regardless of their backgrounds, and this goes beyond diversity policies; it is about fostering an environment that encourages an open-door approach and open communication. Hosting informal catch-up meetings where topics surrounding diversity and inclusivity are discussed is more likely to encourage employees to speak about their experiences and expectations. Senior leaders can use this discussion as insights to identify more initiatives and practices that promote gender equality.

  • Mentorship programmes/resource groups – Organising mentorship programmes and resource groups, especially for women, could aid them navigate tricky situations and provide crucial support otherwise.

  • Effective grievance redressal mechanism – Organisations are obligated to establish a grievance redressal mechanism under several labour laws in India. However, establishing a mechanism and appointing a person(s) may by itself not sufficiently address any issues within the organisations. The mechanism should be made more accessible and transparent to encourage employees to raise flags.

 

Fostering a diverse workplace requires a commitment to workplace sensitisation, which goes beyond training and policies. Organisations can build a more positive work atmosphere by considering targeted programmes for women (and other specific groups) and encouraging open communication.


[1] The Labour Force Participation Rate is used as a benchmark to analyze unemployment data.

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