The soap opera of sexual harassment – There is shame in silence

Parity Blogs written by Meera Kaul

A lot of women in the workplace feel that they need to tolerate sexual harassment to keep their jobs

Enrichetta Ravina thought the professor was her mentor, assisting her get access to a priceless collection of data for her research into how workers apportion their retirement savings. It was a studentship, she believed, that could help her receive tenure at Columbia Business School.

But then, she said, the remarks started. The professor told her about viewing pornography and his sexual feats, she said. He started making advances toward her, calling her “sexy.” And, she said, he had the capability to have that crucial data set taken away.

In a lawsuit against the university filed on Tuesday in Federal District Court, Ms. Ravina said she protested continually to Columbia officials about the situation, but that they only dismissed and demeaned her.

One dean called her circumstances a “soap opera.” Others told her to forget her grievances and to walk away from her research assignment. In November 2014, the office that guarantees the university is in compliance with Title IX, which forbids gender discrimination in educational institutions, found no violation.

A lot of women in the workplace feel that they need to tolerate sexual harassment to keep their jobs.

Women often don’t come forward to report circumstances of sexual violence. There are innumerable reasons for the sorry state of affairs. The most important reason is that women are often made to feel guilty for what occurred to them – victim blaming is a common phenomenon as has been seen even in the media even in the most monstrous rape cases. A woman is often told that it is her way of dressing, or her conduct towards the colleague of the opposite sex is the real reason that she was sexually harassed.

Victims are also made to feel liable about what can happen if they report such a case. Victims are often told that reporting the case would have a damaging impact on the future of the institution or organization that they are working for. Reporting sexual harassment would, the argument goes, preclude other women from applying for a job in that business and would unfavorably affect the image of the brand. Victims are sometimes made to feel obliged to let go of a “small incident” keeping larger benefits in mind. When this approach is adopted by an organization’s leadership or the managers, it emboldens the proliferation of sexual harassment and legally the organization itself and directors can be held complicit in the illegal collusion to allow sexual harassment in the workplace.

Some victims also believe that such an incident would be a blemish on their resume and would render them un-hirable. They, consequently, choose to endure quietly in order to maintain their future engagement in the workforce. This fear is not entirely irrational

Diana Guerrero is living proof that you can speak against sexual violence and misconduct and win justice. When she was 17, while interning with the local police department in New Mexico; an officer raped her. Like many other women, Diana was engulfed with feelings of eroded self-worth and guilt. She started asking herself what she had done wrong. She told no one for a very long time before she confided in another woman police officer, the officer urged her to report the matter so that other women officers would also come forward and report the malice they feel when at work.

Rasha, recently divorced, was accosted by her boss who asked her if she wanted a drive back home while working late at office. Fearing her own safety in taking public transport, she accepted the offer. While seated in the car, she felt her boss’s hand on her legs. She immediately reacted and told her boss that she was not interested in a relationship with him. He seemed to take the refusal well; she said. The very next day when she turned up to work; stories about how she was sexually permissive had started making rounds of the office. In a few days, she started getting shunned by her own colleagues. She took the complaint to her boss one morning. The boss looked at her from across the table and said coldly, I can make it go away; if you give in to me. Rasha resigned. She decided that she did not have the tools to fight the situation.

 

MEERA KAUL:

Meera Kaul has the unique experience of being a serial entrepreneur and an angel investor along with the exposure of having worked in venture capital and private equity domains. Over the last 2 decades of her career, Meera Kaul has incubated, financed and promoted technology enabled ventures in US, Europe and the emerging markets of Middle East, Africa and Asia. Meera continues to be involved with several start-ups the world over as an investor or in an advisory role and holds a striking track record of 4 multi-million dollar exits. A committed philanthropist, Meera is also the founder of The Meera Kaul Foundation, a not-for-profit that works towards addressing gender bias in workplaces and empowering women through skills training and capacity building. Meera has also been involved as a Strategic Advisor for Leadership Initiatives with the US State Department Program for women in technology called TechWomen. Meera’s business acumen has made her the only indigenous entrepreneur Voted one of the Top 50 women in the Telecom space. The National Association of Professional Women (NAPW) also honored Meera as a 2015-2016 inductee into its VIP Woman of the Year Circle. Apart from this Meera has also earned the coveted title of Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013 and 2015, while also being the Executive of the Year over consecutive years. Meera was also awarded The Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 award for Asia. And more recently, to add to her prestigious list of accolades, Meera won the coveted Women of Influence Award 2016, courtesy the Silicon Valley Business Journal, for her tireless efforts in the space of Technology and Leadership for women. Additionally, Meera is an investor in several Silicon Valley startups, is the founder of technology publications and sits on the board of various cutting-edge hi-tech ventures globally. Besides being an accomplished technology geek, Meera has a degree in International Taxation and Financial Law from TJSL, and is also an Alumni of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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