Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dangerous corporate relationships

To all you guys ... be careful in how you interact with your female co-worker(s) when you : 

 - forward an email or an SMS to a female co-worker, or, 
 - you tell a joke in her presence which may be saucy / adult / plain xxx, or,
 - you crack a joke about her, or, 
 - you compliment her on her looks / dress or you do not notice her
 - you ignore her at the project party and dance with someone else
 - you do not make a graceful exit from a relationship 
 - you touch her in a friendly manner like slapping her back etc

and so many other things one will normally do with a co-worker who becomes a friend after working day and late evenings on projects, sharing the joys and pains of deliveries, client relations, bad appraisals, un-approved expense statements, birthdays, resignations ... so much and more. 
Oh yes make sure she is not three rungs below you in seniority (according to Idea Cellular it is inappropriate to get into a relationship with someone who is your junior .... ROTFL)  - one or two may be okay ;-) else try another department at the same level and on the same floor. 
This is what I know - women are stronger than men and men had better believe this and make life easier for themselves. So stop getting drunk or bashing them just to prove your masculinity. At the end you are the one who says sorry and cuddles up to her. 

What I fail to understand - women are screaming for equality. They want to wear pants and walk with the guys. You can see liberated and empowered women everywhere - standing with their male friends (or alone) smoking outside buildings, leading presentations, rubbing shoulders in pubs and restaurants. Of course then they also head large corporations and fly planes and spaceships. Oh yes, I forgot the mixed parties at strip clubs - the guys and gals really bond there. 

Any of the above mentioned scenarios is a potential 'sexual harassment' situation and if a woman cries wolf the man has no chance. 

Why do women expect special treatment when there is the eternal quest to be considered equal. 

Over the past few weeks we have seen a few high profile cases 
- Mark Hurd resigned as CEO at HP
- Pradeep Shrivastava resigned as Chief Marketing Officer at idea Cellular
- David Davidoff resigned as CEO at Penguin International
And this blog came about inspired by the incident at Idea Cellular.

Yes there are lots of bad men and they do bad things, but then bad men and bad women do bad things to men too. How many men can claim sexual harassment and how many have done this. Harassment happens in the workplace and at home too... and we have wife beaters and husband-beaters too, except that there is no law to protect the men. 

Let me clarify - I do not want to be considered or to sound sexist or attract the ire of womenfolk. My family has always had more women than men and I love them and have seen them cry, laugh and conquer.  

And there are a number of women I have had the privilege of working with - women of substance and some without (just like the male co-workers). We have partied together, shared jokes, exchanged emails, shared happiness and sorrow, bitched about the boss and the appraisals and the expenses and more. When you spend 10 plus hours with a group of people for so many days of your life you are bound to bond. It happens everywhere !

So when should a woman say harassment and when not ? Maybe that is what we must see in the context of our ambitions to be men and then act like women. Maybe the parent at home must trust the daughter as much as the son and pass on that same thought process to the female. 

What I have to say is that back slapping or a hug and a peck on the cheek among friends is not harassment. Forwarding SMSes or emails to friends is not harassment when you are friends, whether the forwards are tame or of the saucy or adult variety - it has to be taken in the spirit of camaraderie and if any one does not like such communications one can ask the sender to desist. 

Of course if the sender continues to be a pest then the harassment claim will be valid and this can be man to man or man to woman or woman to man.  

So where does one have to draw the line and why - if the workplace is equal opportunity then everyone is equal. Men and women. If so then why does the woman have the right to "claim" harassment and score on a man so easily - I mean she can get a summary judgement against a man just by crying out loud. And be sure that that man / officer will be ostracized in the office right away. 

Another clarification - I do not condone the behavior of people like Rathore or Gill. They have no business touching the ladies inappropriately, gloating over their behavior and then using their powerful connections to browbeat their victims. Even with a man they have no right touching anyone inappropriately. 

See - this is what I mean - what is wrong is wrong. And if you are going up to the moon in a spaceship how do live with three co-workers in a cramped spaceship. Or if you are on a sales trip with a couple of men co-workers how do you avoid the after hours bonding when you are all staying at the same hotel... how will you work together if you are not social with your co-workers. 

Women are all over - one sees more women than men in jobs and it is great. They are a treat to the eyes and no disrespect here. So will I be hauled up for harassment if I look at you - i mean an approving eye is good but a roving eye is evil so how do you tell this apart.

What I do know is that from a man's perspective there may be a lot of potentially situations and one has to have a perspective on this. In any case, to go back to my first statement - women are strong and women want to be empowered so why not take the opportunity and stand tall. Why do u want harassment laws and if they are enacted why have you not asked for gender equality with the same fervor !

Dangerous corporate relationships - what an idea sirji...

Note .. this has been re-posted from my blog

Update: Aug 14, 2010
People just don't have the patience to read and are getting personal. So I have removed names involved... infer what you may! 

I woke today to see headlines about the newest victim of sexual harassment in the workplace...

Reading through the article I could not help but feel sorry for [a] CMO and his family; [b] Chairman and the Company; [c] the telecom industry and [c] the lady who has charged misconduct and her family. 

My opinion - Shooting straight from the hip (as usual) is based on this one article in the Mumbai Mirror, and I will refer to it extensively because I am going to read between the lines and you may find my digressions interspersed in italics - 

[a] The accused - he is called one of the 'brightest sparks' and has been with the group for over 8 years. Inspite of the 'brightness' with reputed institutions behind him, he chose quit and not make a statement before the committee that was investigating the charges. And that too when he could have easily shot down the charges.

Why quit for something that is not proven and not fight back for your honor - get them to fire you ! Then he could have claimed wrongful dismissal !!

That he lived with the charges for two years is another black spot - why did he not actively pursue  for closure when the first charges were leveled two years earlier. Obviously a lot of legal advice has been provided and this formed the basis of action (or lack of it)  - so now he will be pronounced anecdotally guilty ! 

Read the report of the investigating committee and you find that it has gone to great lengths to state he is not guilty so why quit so why did he not lodge a complaint and allow the cops to take this incident to a logical conclusion.

It is always tough on the family and this one will be no different, and neither will life be different for him. 

[My opinion] The newspaper report does not mention any closure. No complaint has been filed; no settlement is made. Nothing at all to suggest that animosities have been locked up and the keys are at the bottom of the sea. Of course both parties must have had to sign a hundred pages of legal documents and I am doubly sure they may not have read it.  

[b] The firer  - the investigation committee seems to have been constituted to fulfill a policy requirement but the decision seems to have been based on PR considerations. "Out dammed spot !" - is the only dialog I remember from Lady Macbeth but I also remember that dammed spots do not go away easily.  

The committee accepted printouts of the SMS messages but did they get cellphone records too. Since they are a telecom provider themselves it is easy to access the records of their own people. Their findings are :

- the harassment charge and non-promotion are not linked so they do not accept her argument here! 
- they cannot establish if the evidence (SMS messages) was genuine since she has submitted printouts. 
- late night messages between someone your junior is inappropriate ! (hello ! So do u have a policy which says that you should be attracted only to people who are three rungs your senior or three places removed. A new fatwa on appropriate corporate behavior) 

The harassment charge was leveled first two years earlier and that was not closed, and now again last year - so why did the company sleep on a potential workplace conflict situation ? If only a shareholder can file an RTI request there will be a lot of interesting papers to read. One more question that comes to my mind is that if there was this two year old charge why was the accused on the team that carried out her appraisal... how come she continued on his team and HR did not do anything to change her reporting authority. 

Whoops .. sorry Idea ... ek aur question - are the SMSes one year old or two years old or fresh ? Obviously if the SMS is like two years old, we have a different motive to look at now. If they are new then I am sorry to say that he did not learn his lesson when trouble brushed past him during the first instance. I shall never know but may be some newshound will sniff out more information and share. 

My curiosity is only to add to my learning and this is not a gossip or I-wat-to-gloat-on-your-misfortune request. 

Finally there is an "overwhelming feeling in the company" that his "conduct did not amount to sexual harassment" - time for another hello ! are you being contrite just to assuage your guilt ! If this was NOT sexual harassment then why is the newspaper screaming SH ?? who is responsible for this ??
[My opinion] The company seem to have a weak incident response,  incident management and remediation process. They have not resolved potential conflicts leading to the loss of a high performer. If there is truth in the charges and this had been closed two years earlier there may have been more "bright" ideas sirji in time to come! Now they have to search for a successor and this has to be done pronto since the CMO seat is now vacant. 
Eight years is a long time and I am sure many other seniors/peers in the organization felt very bad about letting him go but that does not absolve them of the error of inaction or early action. 
Surprisingly, when the investigation committee has given a clean chit the press is talking about sexual harassment - so who has created this PR bungle ? 
On July 22, MediaNama reported that he is leaving the company to pursue personal interests and on Aug 12 Mumbai Mirror is screaming sexual harassment ! There is an obvious leak somewhere or is there more here than can be seen... rivalry, revenge etc
I don't think this is going to go easy - I am sure a non-poaching clause was inserted it the F & F with him but is there an I-will-not-leave clause with the people whom he mentored or worked with ? And there will be a date when the  non-poaching clause will die - besides, how does one prove that some who joined him was poached and in any case there are a zillion ways to get around this. 
"Employee Churn", "Attrition", "Head Hunting", "Poachers"...  combine these words with morale et al and a picture emerges which may not be very pleasant. 
In any case,sir this is your baby and my purpose is to comment on incidents and I am going to also write about sexual harassment so you may want to keep a watch on my blog.

[c] The accuser - about two years earlier she wrote to HR accusing him of sexual harassment but did not provide any evidence to substantiate her charges. HR withheld his increment based on the accusation. 

Last year she accused him again and wrote to the chairman asking him to intervene and a committee was set up which I have written about. Now she has provided evidence in the form of printouts of SMS messages. The committee says that they cannot infer whether these are genuine and that there is no case for harassment and the company says that this was not a case of SH ... whatever ....  he resigns and she has conveyed her "delight" to the senior management at Idea.    

End of story.

However, my point of view must be made since this is my blog and I want to have the last word - 

[My opinion] It is not easy to live in a man's world and to carry on a fight for sexual harassment for a woman. And when the woman is in sales it will be a bigger challenge because you are constantly engaged in inter-personal professional relationships. 
You have to admire her confidence in her case because she withheld her mobile (prime evidence) and presented hard copies of the SMS messages and got the committee to accept this - now that is good legal advice and negotiating skills which seem to be missing elsewhere. 
And I am curious to know why did she not present any evidence when she first reported the harassment by registered mail maybe someone will enlighten me someday ! If she continued in the company for a year after the first compliant she must be interacting with him all along so how come no one knows about the relationship ... good, close, only friends, enemies, hate etc. Certainly HR needs to come up with some sort of explanation.        
And if this did not affect the work it is awesome !  Then what will ? 

Finally a tongue in the cheek comment - is this the reason why we see Abhishek Bachhan morphed into a tree with wiry branches in the later day ads after the hugely successful Sirji campaign. The one where he whacks someone for cracking a sick one... 
post pedh or pre  .. whats up sirji. (for the non-Hindi speakers - this is a take on the words post-paid and pre-paid as used in cellular phone schemes ask me to explain a sick joke and i wont like it)

Mark Hurd from HP, David Davidar from Penguin, Phaneesh Murthy from Infosys were achievers and lost a lot when they were ousted on charges of sexual harassment. A lot of money and more - so stay clued in for my next blog on women :) I surely have developed a new point of view.