Gender-based harassment, violence, and discrimination are pervasive practices affecting millions of female workers worldwide. Consider the following statistics:
- In Bengaluru, the hub of India’s high-tech industry, 60% of women workers in the garment industry reportedly faced intimidation and violence while on the job; nearly 15% of female workers said that they have faced sexual violence in hostile workplaces.
- More than 50% of British female workers have faced sexual harassment at work.
- 38% of women surveyed in the United States said they were sexually harassed at the workplace.
Such statistics are worrying, indeed. Workplace harassment and violence against women will continue to haunt employers unless they are willing to take decisive action. Although various countries around the globe have enacted laws and laid down rules to ensure occupational safety and prevent gender-based harassment or violence to make workplaces safer for female workers, compliance on part of employers is less than half the battle won. A lot more needs to be done.
As an employer or someone in a leadership role, you can go the extra mile to make your workplace safe for women employees. Here in this post, where we discuss five ways you can play a decisive role in promoting the safety of women workers in your company.
Ensure the physical safety of women employees
In order to ascertain the physical safety of women workers while they are on-the-job, employers should make sure the workplace is secure. Some important steps that you can take or recommend to the senior management are:
- Collect valid photo identification documents from security guards, drivers, janitors, and all casual staff.
- Install CCTV cameras at important locations such as common passages, entry/exit points, etc. Make sure the CCTV surveillance system is operational round-the-clock and does not intrude on the privacy of women employees.
- If installing CCTV cameras is not a feasible option, employers may consider security deployment at the location.
- A colleague or security guard should ideally accompany the cab driver if a woman employee working in the night shift is ‘first to be picked or last to be dropped.’
Pay attention to the environmental aspects of security
With women in the workforce, it is important not to ignore the environmental aspect of workplace safety. Some of the most common guidelines that can help promote the safety of working women are as follows:
- Emergency contact numbers should be displayed clearly and made available to all women employees.
- At least one designated company official should be available round-the-clock to be contacted by women employees in case of an emergency.
- The workplace should have basic amenities such as separate and secure restrooms in close proximity to their workstations.
- Provide well-equipped medical facilities that suit female workers’ needs in the workplace.
- Maintain a record (name, address, contact number, the purpose of visit, organization, time and date, etc.) of all people visiting the office premises, factory, or job site, be it someone coming for business purposes or a food delivery boy.
- Ensure provision of company transport for female employees working in night shifts
- Hire cabs or transport vehicles from established firms that perform a thorough background check on each driver.
Zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment
Employers, HR professionals, and others in leadership roles at an organization should make efforts to institute and implement a zero-tolerance policy to end sexual harassment. In many countries such as the United States, Canada, and in some EU (European Union) member states, it is the legal responsibility of an employer to provide employees with an environment free of harassment.
An anti-sexual-harassment policy should clearly explain:
- What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace
- How HR professionals and workers should respond to incidents of sexual harassment
- How a woman employee can file a complaint when sexual harassment occurs
- What are the company procedures for handling a sexual harassment complaint
- That the company will not tolerate sexual harassment at all
Such a policy should be passed on to all employees in writing. Annual training programs for employees can also be held to spread awareness on the subject. Often, male employees indulge in gender-based discrimination or harassment due to unconscious biases. Training programs can help them break free from gender stereotypes and biases that often lead to harassment of women in the workplace.
Women employees are less likely to report incidents of sexual harassment due to the social stigma associated with such cases. Some even fear retaliation by their colleagues, supervisors, or employers.
Therefore, it is important that people in leadership roles encourage their subordinates to call out improper behavior or report workplace sexual harassment by using an established complaint procedure. Separate training programs can be organized for supervisors or managers to help them understand how to identify the signs of sexual harassment and why they should put in 100% effort to stop it.
Employers should adopt a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment like they really mean it. Strict against the offenders is the only deterrent.
Create a strong internal complaints committee (ICC)
Employers should establish a credible Internal Complaints Committee consisting of board members, senior managers, etc. that thoroughly investigates and recommends decisive action in all matters concerning the safety of women workers on the job.
Such a committee should treat all employees equally, regardless of their gender or seniority. This formal mechanism can at times appear as an intimidating setup for some victims. So, some organizations may need to think beyond ICCs.
Train women on how to protect themselves
While employers can take preventive measures to eliminate the possibility of an untoward incident, the fact of the matter is that unfortunate incidents do occur.
Therefore, training women employees on how to protect themselves in the absence of external help is equally important. Women employees should know how to escalate any uncomfortable situation they suddenly find themselves in or how to seek help.
Disclaimer: This is not legal information. No attorney-client privileges are substantiated from this article.