IN THE last week of April, all 90 employees of Bizongo, a Powai-based startup, huddled in a circle in the office conference room, their eyes closed. Anyone who had faced any eve-teasing or molestation or had been a victim of sexual harassment was asked to take a step towards the centre of the circle. Almost all women employees and a few men had moved closer to the centre by the end of the exercise, part of a gender sensitisation workshop.
The compulsory workshop was aimed at helping attendees understand the nuances of sexual harassment at work. Aspects such as how does one report an instance, how does a superior officer handle such a complaint, what are the rights of the complainant and what is a bystander’s role in such cases were taken up.
“Our aim is to make our office as inclusive and safe as possible. The workshop was an initiative towards that goal,” said Aniket Deb, founder of Bizongo.
Bizongo’s effort comes in the backdrop of sexual harassment allegations against Arunabh Kumar, founder of The Viral Fever. The allegations had raised concerns over mechanisms, or the lack thereof, in startups to handle sexual harassment complaints.
According to Prageeyaa Khanna, the gender advocacy lead of SheSays, an organisation that held the workshop for Bizongo, several startups have approached them over the past two months to hold gender sensitisation sessions as well as help design a policy to handle sexual harassment at the workplace.
“The activities during the workshop were eye-openers for us. The workshop also gave us better clarity on what is appropriate and what is not and what comes under the ambit of harassment,” said Shalmali Patkar, assistant director, marketing, at Bizongo.
Truebil, a Marol-based startup that is an online solution for buying and selling cars, has put in place ‘Udaan’,a policy under the Sexual Harassment of Women at workplace Prevention,Prohibition, and Redressal Act 2013. An autonomous body that includes democratically elected members from each department — technology, product, operations, HR and marketing— has been set up for redressal of complaints.
“The members are elected every six months to maintain integrity. We even have an anonymous email ID which the employees can use to report an incident, if they are not comfortable disclosing their identity,” said Shubh Bansal, co-founder and chief of Marketing, Truebil.
Nariman Point-based edutech startup Genext Students, too, has framed a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment. “We have a well-designed policy in place. Our management is intent on handling complaints effectively and keeps its doors and ears open to complaints,” said Ali Asgar Kagzi, co-founder of Genext Students.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at workplace Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal Act 2013 encompasses all workers including interns, temporary staffers and freelancers. “All these kinds of workers are found in great numbers in startups. The law is fairly recent and hence it is important for employers to inform all their employees, including janitors, peons, interns as well as freelancers, of the provisions of the law,” said Khanna.