NEW DELHI / BENGALURU (Reuters) – In 2015, when Antony Alex prepared his training products to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, large and small companies in India rejected him, saying that it is not worth the investment.
FILE PHOTO: Binny Bansal, general manager of the group of the largest Indian electronics trading company, Flipkart, poses at the headquarters of the company in Bangalore, India, 7 July 2017. REUTERS / Abhishek N. Chinnappa / File Photo
This year, however, the consulting company Alex based in Mumbai, Rainmaker, is experiencing the greatest growth in history, because companies are quickly trying to educate employees about anti-sexual harassment and company policy.
The real increase in demand followed the spread of the #MeToo movement in India, which in recent weeks has seen dozens of women who publicly criticize sexual harassment against prominent journalists, actors and other public figures.
This week, the resignation of Binny Bansal, CEO of Walmart Inc (WMT.N) The Flipkart project in India, after internal polls on accusations of personal wrongdoing, is only supposed to add momentum. Flipkart's Bansal denied the accusations of misconduct, which two sources gave Reuter the allegation of a sexual assault.
But the sudden departure of a technological billionaire shocked Indian businesses because he was considered a superstar entrepreneur who was a co-founder of an e-commerce company just over a decade ago when he was in his twenties. Walmart acquired Flipkart in a $ 16 billion transaction this year.
"The lesson in this matter for fast-growing startups is clear, management issues can not be ignored … and management must be much more sensitive, alert and prepared," T.N. Hari, head of the human resources department at the Bigbasket.com grocery store, wrote in the column for the Indian newspaper Mint.
Companies – large and small – are now approaching headhunters, law firms and boutiques such as Rainmaker to provide them with a safer workplace for women, better prepare for complaints and carry out appropriate checks on potential employees.
"Companies understand that if POSH compliance (prevention of sexual harassment) goes wrong, it can lower the company and the brand," said Alex, whose customer base has grown by 30 percent in the last six months and includes major national and international companies.
"I summarized this as fear, they are petrified under the influence of the brand."
CAUTIOUS INDIA INC
The #MeToo movement began last year in the United States in response to accusations of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. In India, the movement gained momentum in September after the actress from Bollywood complained about the inappropriate behavior of the co-driver.
Corporate India must now react.
The executive director of the streaming video service Amazon.com Inc. told Reuters on Wednesday that Indian comics in the face of allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior will not be responsible for the upcoming political satire.
On the same day, the Indian car giant Tata Motors (TAMO.NS) dismissed the head of media communications after an internal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.
Pratibha Jain, a partner at Nishith Desai Associates, an Indian law firm, said her clients are increasingly asking for help in investigating claims related to sexual misconduct and due diligence regarding the reputation of even third-party service providers such as lawyers.
"In the past, such cases could have been soaked under the rug, but the sensitization of workers has definitely increased in relation to the movement," said Jain.
Some questions showed how the movement led the company to anxiety. A senior manager in a multinational company in India has recently consulted Jain about whether he should stop talking to women in the room at all, while some companies are considering installing closed circuit television cameras, they can help if they have to investigate the alleged case of sexual misconduct.
Talent-advisory firm Hunt Partners began to receive more requests for specific checks to see if there were any complaints about sexual harassment against potential employment.
"Even if Indian business leaders could be irresponsible for these things in the past, they are now in agreement," said Suresh Raina, one of the company's partners.
India, 1.3 billion people, is still a largely conservative country. Despite the rapid urbanization and economic growth in recent years, the rate of professional activity of women remains among the lowest in the world.
According to the Indian Economy Monitoring Center, only 20 percent of all permanent employees of the best listed companies in India are women.
The 2013 Act. To increase the safety of jobs for women, it required all companies employing 10 or more employees to form an internal committee that would deal with sexual harassment complaints. It also authorized employers to organize an awareness program on the subject of law.
In practice, many companies still have a long way to meet legal standards, experts in human resources said.
"Very few companies are 100% compatible," said Alex, chief executive of Rainmaker.
In India, there were 533 cases of sexual harassment of women in the workplace during the year to July, compared with 522 in the entire 2015, government data showed. It was not clear how these data were collected.
However, reporting complaints is still small, mainly because women are afraid of reaction, experts say. A recent survey conducted by the LocalCircles local engagement platform found that 78% of the respondents had 7,600 people claiming that they or their family members had to face, but did not report sexual harassment at the workplace.
Mukund Rajan, a former chief Ethics Officer in the Indian conglomerate Tata Sons, said many companies only pay "service lips" to protect women's interests. Indian law says that the complaint and identity of a woman who claims to be sexually abused as well as the internal internal investigation of the company must be confidential.
"I have seen many cases in which informers who called senior management for inappropriate behavior or offensive behavior showed the exit door themselves," Rajan said.
Report of Aditya Kalra in New Delhi and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bangalore; Additional reports by Abhirup Roy and Aditi Shah; Editing by Martin Howell and Alex Richardson