When we think about sexual harassment and the stories that came out of the #MeToo movement, they all have something in common. The looming, ever-present, toxic work environment where women felt uneasy speaking up. Whether you’ve read about women whose colleagues neither stood up for them nor called out the abuser despite knowing of the harassment, or peers who blatantly told women to brush it off with an “Everything goes” attitude, they’re all an equal part of the problem.
I recall a doctor I once interviewed for a story on sexism in medicine telling me about how female doctors were encouraged to specialize in certain fields like gynaecology and paediatrics, while male doctors chose surgery and cardiology. The female doctors who did choose unorthodox fields often felt uncomfortable with the crude humour and boys’ club environment that prevailed due to the skewed gender ratio. A male-dominated environment ends up enabling and protecting the same people who don’t make an effort to accommodate women or understand their discomfort.
In cases of sexual harassment, it’s easy to throw around terms like “due process” and “legal recourse.” With the mandatory instating of Internal Complaint Committees (ICC), one would think delivering justice to women who’ve been harassed would be fairly easy. But due process comes with a whole host of problems, including inaction by the company and attempts to hush up any complaints for fear of bad publicity.
It’s obvious that apart from legal strategies and due process becoming more complainant friendly, something in the work culture has got to change.
This is where companies can take cognizance. Imagine a workplace that didn’t immediately put female employees at a disadvantage due to a skewed gender ratio. Or one that was mindful of queer or trans employees. Wouldn’t that be one quicker to denounce sexual harassment or inappropriate humour and foster one that took action swiftly and decisively?
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That’s not to say that all instances of workplace harassment would magically stop when confronted by a diverse workforce, but it is certainly the first step in getting rid of a sexist workplace.
A few months ago, comedian Hasan Minhaj spoke about affirmative action and its importance in his Netflix original series Patriot Act. The episode was about an association suing Harvard for discrimination in their holistic review admission process, where they choose to be racially conscious. Minhaj explains the difference between being racially conscious and a quota, as the difference between “Hey, I should have more diverse friends.” vs “I need two more black friends.” Put like that, it’s evident that race or any such indicator that sets people apart shouldn’t be the sole basis for hiring someone, but it can certainly be one of many.
There are plenty of social impact organisations who team up with companies to identify and eliminate the obstacles that minority groups or marginalized communities might encounter when applying for a job at that company. They can also design sustainable business models that maximise social impact and revenue generation.
You’re probably wondering about the interviewer bias that inevitably creeps into decision making. To that I say, just go full The Voice on the applicants and use blind hiring methods! Companies like Deloitte and Ernst & Young swear by it, and it’s a great way to guarantee diversity without forcing it. There are also some great softwares out there which hide candidates’ names, faces and other information. Finally, and this may require extra effort (but is really worth it), they can have blind interviewing where you anonymized written tests or personality assessments are used to build a strong, diverse pool of candidates.
Once you’ve consciously hired people of different socioeconomic, racial and religious backgrounds, your work doesn’t end there, though.
Corporate managers, pay attention. A diverse workforce only functions well when those diversities are accommodated through policy change and fair systems of conflict resolution.
Flexible policies for young mothers or gender non-conforming individuals, for instance, can really make your employees value the job and the work culture. A fair system of grievance redressal should also be in place, one that looks to understand all sides of a problem and focuses on reaching a compromise, rather than worrying about the company’s image or publicity.
If you ever find yourself questioning the pros of having a diverse workforce, just remember that our workplaces should be a reflection of the real world we live in.
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