Companies need to look beyond the law to provide safe workplaces for women. Addressing gender inequality should start with the leadership recognizing that issues exist, writes Shraddha Mor Agrawal

Women in workplaces have traditionally struggled with glass ceilings, perceptions, social expectations and the lack of institutional assistance. With Indra Nooyi’s exit from PepsiCo as the chief executive officer, there are less than two dozen women chief executives in the companies that make up the S&P 500. For the 30 Indian companies that make up the Bombay Stock Exchange’s Sensex index, the number is just two.

When the Indian government increased the duration of maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26, the immediate reaction was that it is easier to not hire women than struggle with maternity and day-care issues. When the law was amended to define sexual harassment at the workplace to include circumstances of implied or explicit promise or threat to a woman’s employment prospects or creation of a hostile work environment or humiliating treatment, which can affect her health or safety, the reaction was the same.

However, the Indian government has ploughed ahead determinedly in improving the legal benefits for working women. It launched an initiative for prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace by enacting the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, with the objective of creating a safe and secure workplace for women. The act also establishes a redressal mechanism for the disposal of their complaints.

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs also introduced an amendment to the Companies (Accounts) Rules, 2014, requiring all eligible companies to incorporate a statement in the directors’ report disclosing their compliance with the provisions relating to the constitution of an internal complaints committee (ICC) under the act.

The act requires all companies with more than 10 employees to constitute an ICC to receive and redress complaints from women in a time-bound and confidential manner. This will possibly help in formalizing ICCs in companies since many still set up a committee only when a complaint arises.

The Sexual Harassment Electronic Box, an online platform launched by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, is another effort by the government to provide single-window access to every woman, irrespective of her work status, whether working in the private or public sectors, to register complaints related to sexual harassment. Any woman facing sexual harassment at the workplace can register her complaint through this portal. Once a complaint is submitted on the portal, it will be directly sent to the authority that has jurisdiction to take action on the matter.

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Read more:

A call to arms – Lawyers and in-house counsel discuss how companies can stamp out sexual harassment and empower victims to come forward and file an official complaint in line with the POSH Act

Blowing the whistle – How HR and legal departments should work together to resolve harassment complaints