Recently, Tech Mahindra, an IT firm, fired its chief diversity officer after a former employee raised questions about her behaviour towards homosexual and minority groups. Her social media feed also showed signs of her being intolerant towards these groups. The single complaint led to enough buzz on social media for the company management to sit up and take action.

With millennial employees becoming increasingly vocal about how they are treated in their workplaces, companies can’t afford to turn a blind eye. “Sensitivity is not just an in-born trait expected in a few people today. It is like communication and other soft skills. Business leaders, in particular, need to be trained to become sensitive to people’s preferences as an integral part of leadership development," says Saurabh Uboweja, international brand expert and CEO, Brands of Desire, a management consulting firm.

However, how easy is it for current employees to really raise their voice against unfair treatment? We asked a few millennial employees to tell us how they would react if they were being targeted at work.

Confront or confide?

It is important to speak up in the very first instance, believes Akanksha Takyar, assistant manager, human resources (HR), at Avery Dennison India, a global manufacturer of pressure-sensitive adhesive materials. Takyar, 29, adds that it is the employee’s responsibility to make himself/herself aware of what they should do in case of harassment at work.

“In case one has an ill-treating, misbehaving manager, I believe the right way to go forward is to talk directly with the boss’s boss and intimate him/her about your willingness to get the HR team/harassment cell to intervene," says Aritra Roy, 29, a business analyst at a top IT consulting firm in Chennai. But, as a first step, Roy says it helps to use a stern but non-threatening tone to explain to the errant manager that you are not comfortable with his or her insinuations. Later, an in-room discussion with the HR manager, the complainant and the accused person may prove valuable and helpful to put things right.The key here is to remember that if you let it pass, it might happen again in another organization, with another manager.

If the behaviour is repeated by the manager after the conversation, it can lead to a trust deficit. “In such a scenario, while I would like to have the option of reporting this to the harassment cell or on the company provided helplines, I may decide to confide in a friend or mentor at work depending on my comfort level, especially when it is a case of emotions running high," explains Takyar. This helps one explore options on what to do next.

Pratika Gupta, marketing manager, 31, at a Chennai-based international beverages company believes it’s important for victims and witnesses to speak out, “lest an aberration becomes the norm. I would at the first indication put it squarely on his/her face that I’m not taking any of it. I would not hesitate to take official recourse if I see a need for it. If that doesn’t help either I would call it a day."

The company’s role

While it is useful for companies to encourage employees to stand up for themselves, it is important to acknowledge that confrontation is difficult when there is an unfair power dynamic.

According to Chryslynn D’Costa, head of research and design at Serein, a consultancy firm enabling organizational diversity and inclusion, there are a few things the leadership can do. “The internal complaints committee in many companies is doing a very good job at addressing cases of sexual harassment and even working proactively on preventing such cases from happening. It would be useful to set up a similar internal body to address cases of harassment and discrimination that happen on the basis of caste, religion, orientation or region," says D’Costa. She adds that though employees may feel more ready to stand up for a colleague being harassed, they do not feel equipped to do so. Therefore, it is important to empower employees with information on how they can be more proactive.

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Salvaging the company’s image

An errant behaviour, especially from a leader often acts as a license for errant sub-ordinates to practice similar behaviour. If such issues do become public, it requires a high-paced investigation to address the situation in a fair and transparent manner. Being slow in dealing with such crisis or any kind of perceived unfairness can multiply the damage to brand image.

—Saurabh Uboweja, International Brand Expert

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