This is part of our ongoing series which aims at breaking a gender stereotype in urban India where only males are portrayed as sexual predators and oppressors in a partnership, marriage or relationship.
Related reading: Men can be harassed and abused in a marriage too
Now we venture into the office space.
Men at work
We go into the glitzy corporate boardrooms where more women are occupying leadership positions and seats of power.
Can a woman in a powerful position sexually and emotionally harass a man reporting to her?
Yes, it happens frequently in the Indian corporate atmosphere. You may ask around and I’m sure we will discover plenty of cases where a man will complain about his female boss sexually and emotionally harassing him.
What is the difference between a man harassing a woman employee and a woman harassing a man employee?
The woman is protected by law and a man may be fired for emotionally and sexually harassing her.
No law against it
There is no such law that protects men. There is no available guideline about what should be done when a woman harasses a man in office.
Is there any recourse for the man other than leaving the job quietly with his head hung? None.
This is again another example where the gender laws are skewed and specifies that oppressors can only be men while woman can do no wrong.
Let me give you three examples of sexual harassment by a female boss (all narrated by my close friends and bosses were women).
The names have been changed to protect identity.
Parul used to jokingly call Avinash ‘a stupid fu*k’ in front in front of her team. Example: “Where is the that stupid fu*k. Ask him to come my cabin now.”
One day, Avinash could take it no more and told his boss that he didn’t like being called by that name. Within six months Avinash lost his job for bad performance after his boss sent out 13 emails to HR about his insubordination and casual attitude towards work. She kept on calling him a ‘stupid fu*k’ even in official meetings all this while.
In an office party, Nandu’s boss asked him to drink and dance with her. Nandu was in the IT services sector and hailed from a conservative Tamil family. He was educated in vernacular medium and married with three children. Nandu felt awkward being in office parties, let alone dancing. When he refused to dance with his drunk boss, she didn’t take it too kindly, as the ‘rejection’ became some sort of a joke inside the office. Nandu was fired from his job for not being a team player within a month of the incident.
Shefali and her husband worked in the same department. Shefali and her boss didn’t share a cordial relationship and Shefali was tipped to be the next vertical manager (of a different vertical). Shefali’s boss started harassing her husband to teach Shefali a lesson. She would frequently sit close, body contacting him while casually checking out an artwork. On some days, she would casually put her arm around his shoulders or hug him for no apparent reason. Shefali reported the behaviour to HR and within three months of the incident, her husband was without a job.
Her husband was accused of sexually harassing his boss. Yes, when HR asked the boss, she lied about the whole incident and created a story of her own.
Do you think the above three incidents fall into the category of sexual harassment?
All the three above employees were fired from their jobs and in the third case the employee was not even given an honourable discharge.
Sexual harassment by female bosses is rampant in the corporate scenario. There are lots of senior women who abuse their male subordinates, but are seen as ‘strong women’. There are many women who ask their juniors to sleep with them….
The incidents are many but there is no solution.
Crime cannot be gender specific – a man and a woman may be equally guilty but not everybody is ready to accept it.
In the urban and legal context, a man is more vulnerable than a woman because he has no protection.
Do you acknowledge this?