POSH Trainer Expert Interview

Interview with POSH Expert – Ms. Vasanthakumari Jayaraman

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (also called POSH Act) was passed in 2013, defining sexual harassment, which defined the procedures for a complaint and inquiry, and the necessary action to be taken. The POSH Act establishes a mechanism for dealing with sexual harassment complaints in the workplace. The POSH Act was enforced to prevent and protect women from any kind of sexual harassment at the workplace and thereby ensure a safe working environment for women.

POSH Trainer – Roles and Responsibilities

Some of the critical Roles and Responsibilities of a POSH Trainer are –

  • Policy review and development, as well as legal awareness training for employees and top management.
  • Assist in the formation of an internal complaints committee.
  • Provide an ICC external member.
  • Assist the organisation in maintaining legal compliance.
  • Provide employees with an online learning programme.

Let us hear from Ms. Vasanthakumari Jayaraman – POSH IC Member at Dept. of Health & Family Welfare Govt. of TamilNadu. She is serving as POSH IC committee external member and gender diversity trainer with ONGC. She has also worked with brands such as Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, SIDBI and ITC. She was also one of the speakers at an international conference organized by the Association of Women in Communication in Austin, USA and a Panelist at the International Conference on Child Marriages 2106 in Malaysia. She has been part of different International forums.

Q1. Why did you choose this field and how would you describe your journey so far?

Answer: Basically I am a psychology and family counsellor. That is my profession initially but having done my PhD in psychology and family counselling I am into that. But my passion is with women’s empowerment. For the last 30 years, I am doing financial empowerment or education and finance. These are two things which give empowerment to women. In this context, I keep doing a lot of work with NGOs, government organizations and educational institutions. Many educational institutional call me an entrepreneurial advisor. This is how I started.

In women empowerment, share this experience. Initially when I started as a trainer in the huge automobile manufacturing industry. As a trainer, that years back, when I was 22-23 years old. It used to be an industrial estate which was absolutely for men. Even you won’t find a restroom in the factory. You can see a lot of men working there. From there I started my journey. In many informal sectors, women used to work, but in the formal sector, in the head office, there are girls. But in factories, 30 years back in India, very minimal number of women working. At that point in time, I started working with them as a trainer, consultant.

Thanks to Diversity and inclusion. The law of DEI – Diversity, Equality and Inclusion that helped us a lot. The IT revolution has helped many women being recruited and working comfortably. At this point in time, we all know about Vishakha guidelines prior to POSH act that was not a mandatory. Whereas only after 2012, Nirbhya’s incident in Delhi, this act of prevention sexual harassment act 2013 start happening.

In Tamil Nadu, police stations are there for more than 20 years. I worked with a lot of women in the NGO sector, in the government sector, they started calling like external faculty, and got trained from Delhi Ministry of Child Development. From then, there is no looking back. I am a full-timer in gender and prevention of sexual harassment. That is how it started.

Q2. What is POSH Act?

Answer: POSH Act is actually prevention of sexual harassment Act at Workplace, because we are very specific. There are 2 different acts i.e. prevention of sexual hall harassment in a public places that we are reading in the newspaper, news all those comes under public space which we are not going to discuss. Our focus is on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace for women exclusively. There are 2 different things which need to be understood. One is a safe to work environment and the other one is zero tolerance. These are the things which come under this law.

Q3. How is POSH implemented in companies?

Answer: There are organizations including manufacturing and IT, which are multinational organizations. Multinational organizations have a different perspective, especially in developed countries hoe these laws are in place. And this is started by only UN. I am also associated with United Nations Organizations presenting papers in different countries.

UN knows that there must be a convention as you know India is a partnering country with the UN. That is the reason why the law is in place in developed countries. When an organization has headquarters in France, they know the law and the consequences of all these things. That is the reason why, when they started the operations in India, as they started manufacturing in India, right from the inception of the law they started (2013). Earlier, awareness was not there. That is a reason why many people were not there. Now almost 80% of the organizations have their law, policy and IC committee.

How organizations are working is, they are supposed to draft their policy, that is called anti-sexual harassment policy and then sometimes, though the law act is for women, many organizations mainly MNCs prefer to have it as gender-neutral & gender-free because there should not be any discrimination based on gender. It is for the policy only but as far as the act is considered, it is for women. They form their IC Committee and then they display in a strategical position and creating awareness to the employees and then there is an exclusive cell, whenever there is any complaint, it is our duty. Personally I have handled more than 1000 sexual harassment complaints. And then I have trained more than 1 lakh people.

Q4. Can you explain how a POSH committee work?

Answer: From the constitution of a committee, every organization having more than 10 employees, they are mandatorily supposed to have a committee. In which, the minimum requirement is 4 members comprising more than 50% to be women and is headed by a senior lady (Presiding Officer). There should be an external NGO member associated for unbiasedness inquiry. This is how they start and there is an exclusive email or contact number when there is an issue. Confidentiality is the key thing, we never used to disclose, as it is a very sensitive thing. That is the reason when somebody wants to raise a complaint, first thing we need is to ascertain whether is a true complaint or false because less than 10-20% false complaints are registered also there or sometimes malicious meaning there is revenge taking kind of complaints. In that case we have to sort it out. And sometimes we may receive a complaint it may look like a sexual harassment complaint, but if you look inside deeply, that’s the possibility of disciplinary because there are two different things we need to understand. One is the disciplinary feedback other one is the performance feedbacl.

Say for example if a girl is coming late every day, the manager or the team leader is supposed to question or have to give feedback about it. But while questioning, there should not be any discrimination. For example, in an organization we received a complaint from a young girl against her lady boss, she said that she was late many times and when questioned she said – “Where do you have time for the office, you only have time for your lipstick and makeup“, that should not be there comment. You can do anything as per organization policy – suspend or dismiss but there should not be body shamming. All such things are creating a lot of issues, so we use to teach them while giving training, we need to ensure whether it is disciplinary based, we normally request HR department to handle it. When there is a fraudulent act we request the legal department to take care of it.

Unless and otherwise, there is a sexual connotation like, for example, bullying is what no organization would accept but bullying without sexual connotation – the HR department will handle. But Bullying with sexual connation – For example, in an organization, a girl dressed up in a black suit, from the same department one person commented, you looking so pretty in the black dress, which she took as a compliment. The other person from the same department commented you look hot in the black dress. Here we aren’t to do moral policing, that’s not our job. If it’s a consensual relationship, agreed upon or mutual relationship, then this committee has no role to play. When a girl is not comfortable or is being forced by their power, then it becomes harassment.

Q5. Just like we receive training programmes when we join an organization, do we also get an POSH Act training at the time of joining the organization?

Answer: It is mandatory as per the law and need of the hour. We also give small module at the time of induction training. Say for example in universities and colleges – pet name calling is accepted even for teachers. Honestly it should not be accepted but in colleges it is quite common. After joining the organization they are not allowed to use pet names. That is the message we need to give in organization.In the induction programme it should be emphasised that this a zero tolerant organization, safe work organization and your role. The transformation has to happen. There are 3 programmes like

  • Awareness creation program for the employees
  • For team leaders and managers it is about taking care of the team
  • Elaborative presentation by the IC committee about the documents to maintain, enquiry procedure and the norms

There are deadlines that have to followed.

Q6. What are the provisions under POSH Act?

Answer: VISAKHA guideline was not mandatory, but many organizations wanted to follow but the POSH act is a mandatory thing. Any organization has more than 10 employees and it is the duty of the organization to provide a safe work environment and there must be an internal complaint committee in place. There must be mandatorily an external member as well. which is also mandatory. There is a procedure, say for example confidentiality and then the lifts of punishment if guilt is proved, what are the things, interim we normally use to give in order the safe the victim because sometimes there is life threat for the victims, like acid attacks. In India, even reporter acid attacks are there, in order to protect there is certain provisions given by the act.

Q7. What is a SHe-Box?

Answer: As the name suggests it is the sexual harassment electronic box. It is very good thing. Since I have been travelling to many countries, you need not go to the police stations. It is an easy way of approaching things, it’s a single window access. She works in central government and the Ministry of child development is very active for us, like even domestic violence, the harassment in workplace immediately irrespective of the position is taken into action. In the organized sector too, people are facing issues, in the unorganized sector too, when people want to put an end to the harassment they can also send an e-mail to this.

Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India has developed an online complaint management system titled Sexual Harassment electronic–Box (SHe-Box) for registering complaints related to sexual harassment at workplace by women, including government and private employees. Once a complaint is submitted to the SHe-Box portal, it directly reaches to the concerned authority having jurisdiction to take action in the matter.

Q8. Since the POSH Act protects only women against sexual harassment, can the organization’s POSH policy be gender-neutral?

Answer: Yes gender-neutral and gender fluid.These are the two words because there is a subtle difference between these two words. Becasue gender is mostly referred to as women is what most people think usually. I used to teach some nomenclature like what is the difference between sex and gender, sex is a biological form, at the time of birth there can be only either a male or a female baby but gender is the emotional form, the feelings, emotions, psychological frameworks of mind.

Gender-neutral, as per UN, we are only familiar with three types of gender i.e. male, female and transgender. But more than 50 genders are acceptable, even your Facebook is accepting 56 genders. You can just google and see what are those like. Ungender in Delhi there is an organization called ungender, agender, cisgender, non-binary. There are different names and subtle differences are there. There is LGBTQ act, the sexual orientation. Whether you are a homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, there should not be any discrimination. That is why there is gender-neutral policy.

That is their personal life, all of us are here to work together and achieve the common goal of the organization, we are not supposed to discriminate based on gender or sexual orientation or whatever it is. When we have the policy, as per that it’s for women, the policy can be an inclusive policy, in the way it can cover everyone, that should not be the harassment that is why the policy is straight.

Q9. What is the penalty for Non-Compliance of POSH Act?

Answer: There are stringent penalties, which is a minimum of Rs 50000 as the penalty which can go up to the level of cancelling the license of the business. Up to that level, it is there. I am very happy that many organizations are coming up. Recently only after covid you know, this work from, lockdown scenario, that is a new normal. Lots of things are happening, we thought that it is work from home scenario, the number of cases will reduce, but it is not so. The only thing which wasn’t happening was physical contact. Rest everything was happening.

Q10. Why is there a need for POSH Training?

Answer: Ignorance cannot allow you to make use of Law. Like for example, in an organization, it’s a factory, where girls used to pick up and dropped back with office vehicles. There are few people of different people used sing, use abusive language. But when we were questioning, very casually he was saying that no one taught me we are not supposed to sing a song while a girl is passing. Then we said that right from birth, even from the home everyone is teaching. In India, I am very proud Indian but at the same time, we are not working against injustice. We are working against a mindset of the people. I would like to give you an example of why there is a need for training. There’s a girl in the organization who raised a complaint saying a young boy used to send abusive messages, and then we started doing the enquiry. She is from a small town, her mother is from a very small city. She called me and said, “madam, boys are boys”, the mother of the victim was telling me – “She is not an Aishwarya Ray”. There are 3500 girls working, why only for this girl, she would not have dressed properly.” It is blaming the victim. In fact, in the UN women sometimes back the slogan was “stop blaming the victim”. Stop blaming the victim. That is why we are emphasising training these boys. I am very happy you know there are movies like “No means no”. Otherwise, here again, boys interested in a girl, proposing to her will not come under harassment. When she says categorically No, after saying NO if there is stalking, threatening, then like the typical movie type then that becomes harassment, that is where training becomes awareness creation. Most of the time, the young guys used to tell me, had I known even calling by name will come under sexual harassment, I won’t have done that. Out of ignorance, that is why training is mandatory.

Q11. Are there any instances that people are performing acts unknowingly and falling under the jurisdiction of the POSH act?

Answer: In any organization, we are not questioning a mutual relationship, After one year or two years, say that is a breakup. After a breakup, whatever they share, their intimate communication, they used to bring it as evidence. They are meeting in the organization, there is a relationship, after 2 years there is a breakup, then we are not bothered. After a breakup, this guy starts, the character assassinating the girl, and started sharing with other friends saying that their intimate relationship, is when it becomes harassment.

We want to give you a message that, whenever there is a relationship, we never used to consider during the time of relationship, whatever communication, or whatever it is that is their relationship based thing, we never used to take such thing as evidence. So the message to the girls is if you are not interested please tell the person NO, that clear-cut NO is missing most of the time. Keeping quiet is a YES message to him. It is better to escalate that ignoring will not give him the message. When I talked to the guy against whom the complaint was raised for abusive messages, he said I didn’t get any message from her side, I thought she was enjoying the messages, therefore if you are not interested, please tell the person.

Don’t be aggressive all the time, you can even say you are already engaged or whatever it is, there must be a message to the other people directly saying to stop.

Q10. What advice would you like to give to freshers who wish to join this field?

Answer: There are a lot of lawyers coming to this field, they know the law better. But with experience, we need to handle it sensitively. We need to address the issues, not only from the law, of course, we have the law, we follow the complaints obviously. But at the same time, counselling is a part of it. Because there are girls who used to tell us, I really don’t want to complain, madam, I like that guy, but he’s not replying. What I want to say is, that there is no point in following when he is not interested. In the same way, there are guys, who used to tell me, I proposed to her, she is not talking, that is the end of the world, it’s certainly not. Counselling is a part and parcel of the POSH Act Law. There is no question most of the time, so counselling is part of it. So one has to look at it in a fact, compassionate way. There are organizations where people used to say that there is a complaint to me like there was a sales girl, she was not calm, she is uncomfortable with a particular customer, then she said to the manager, I am not comfortable the way he is looking at me. Immediately, the manager said, being a pretty girl, everyone will look at you, that is not the expected answer and that is not the reason she is standing there. On top of that at the time of enquiry when he was questioned how could you say that to somebody, either you could have stoop up. We are not asking you to fight. At least you can send a supervisor to check at that particular customer or something he could have done. He said, madam, you should look at her, she is so pretty. Then I had pull in his daughter, he said yes mam my daughter is studying in 12 standard. If it is your daughter standing there, will you say the same thing, he said no mam. I won’t, he replied. Thus the end of conversation. She is also a daughter of other person. Please try to help her. This is the mindset which needs to be changed. These are the things I wanted to tell the fresher.

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