People's mindset determines workplace safety: Havas' Anita Nayyar

MUMBAI: Getting a job is no easy task but the place you spend nearly 9-12 hours of your day can turn into a nightmare for some women. Men touching colleagues inappropriately or passing lewd comments tend to become things that form a part of the office culture.

Hence, it is of utmost importance that the workplace has a healthy and friendly environment. Yet, more often than not, friendly gestures by colleagues or bosses tend to overreach their professional confines creating an uncomfortable situation for women, leading to a case of sexual harassment.

There has been no dearth of cases of sexual harassment at prominent companies over the last few months. It blew out of proportion when Hollywood’s most revered mogul and influential kingpin, Harvey Weinstein, was accused of sexually harassing and abusing women for nearly 30 years. Soon after the news broke, numerous people either used the #metoo hashtag or referenced it when discussing their experiences with inappropriate behaviour.

This is not restricted to Hollywood, Silicon Valley or newsrooms. The issue is as pertinent in India as much as it is in the West. Producers and directors asking for sexual favours in return for a role in a movie or a TV show is not news anymore. The most recent case of a person in power taking advantage of his position was TVF CEO Arunabh Kumar.

Sexual harassment isn’t restricted to just behaviours of a sexual nature. By definition, it is an unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

To address the issue, Indian Supreme Court in 1997, directed all corporations to have a mandatory Vishakha Guidelines Internal Complaints Committee at all workplaces, headed by a woman employee, with not less than half of its members being women. All complaints of sexual harassment by any woman employee would be directed to this committee. The committee advises the victim on further course of action and recommends to the management the course of action against the person accused of harassment.

But what is the ground reality when it comes to the advertising and media world? got talking to Havas Media Group CEO India and South Asia Anita Nayyar, who is known to be stalwart and valorous in expressing her point of view. She spoke to us about their adherence to the Vishakha Guidelines, safety measures undertaken by the company, need for the industry to come together for this and more. Excerpts:

Does Havas Media have a sexual harassment committee (the Vishakha committee) in place for women employees?

Yes, the committee consists of senior executives including me, two women HR executives and an external legal counsellor. We have a proper time-bound complaint mechanism in place to redress such matters where both parties (victim & the accused) are called and talked to separately. I’m glad though that we haven’t had to call upon this committee because, at Havas, we drive a zero-tolerance culture against sexual harassment.

What are the measures that Havas Media undertakes to ensure women safety?

I believe there are a lot of women who are ignorant about this subject and do not even realise if they are being harassed. Hence, awareness is of utmost importance according to me. At Havas, we conduct monthly town halls where such topics are addressed and talked about openly. We also conduct such sessions for only women employees. Working late hours is often unavoidable in agencies. While we provide cab facilities to all employees in such cases, for female employees it is mandatory that they are escorted by security/office person.

Is the Indian media environment a safer place for women to work in as compared to other industries?

Industries are made up of people and people and their mindsets determine how safe a workplace is. The more open the environment, the much safer, thereby creating a culture of respect, equality and no-nonsense. 

Is the Indian media a better place to work at as opposed to the West where we are seeing a lot of such cases recently? Or is it here people choose to remain silent?

It happens everywhere. It is true that Indian women choose to succumb to societal pressures much easier than their western counterparts and refrain from talking about it. But there is a wave of change we’re seeing in the wake of the recent #MeToo revelations. We are seeing more women come out of their shells and make open confessions. Not to forget the contribution of some supportive men.

What more needs to be done to ensure a better work environment for female employees?

In a recent announcement made by our global CEO, Yannick Bollore, he said “Havas will be launching two new mandatory global online training for all employees that cover not only harassment but also business ethics. Harassment can take on many forms, both physical and verbal. Neither is acceptable. These courses will reinforce the behaviours expected of Havas employees.” He added, “Respect is at the core of our values at Havas.”

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