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...
Aug 12 - Resignation of Idea Cellular's Chief Marketing Officer
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.
This link will take you to my blog about women in the workplace....
Labels: sexual harassment incident