Home/ News / India/  Shikha Mittal: Victim-turned-entrepreneur combats sexual harassment at workplace

One in fifteen (6.3% or 205 million) employees has experienced sexual violence and harassment at the workplace, according to a 2022 report by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The United Nations labour agency added that the recurrent episodes of sexual harassment are higher among women at 56.5% at work. The #MeToo movement in 2019 ignited the debate on this sensitive issue, but the bitter reality is, several such cases are brushed under the rug due to a lack of awareness, ingrained patriarchial mindset, feeling of guilt, etc.

Fortunately, some fearless women have pushed the envelope in combating workplace harassment and retaining the integrity of female victims. On the occasion of Internation Women's Day, Mint spoke with one such gutsy woman-- Shikha Mittal, Founder-Director at Be.artsy.

Mittal herself was the victim of workplace abuse when she began her career at a corporate company. "My first summer job was for an ice cream brand when I was 16. Post joining the corporate world full-time at the age of 21 I was facing workplace challenges like a hostile working environment, discrimination, and sexual harassment," she said. In quest of finding a "safe" workplace for her, Mittal changed several jobs but she only got disappointment everywhere.

"I said no to my senior so many times but every time he finds me alone in the corridor he asks me to meet him for dinner," Mittal said. She explained how her clothes became a topic of gossip among some sick-minded people in a company. "One day my boss told me, Look at your shirt, it's so body-hugging and I can tell you your size by looking at you, and you are telling me not to ask you out for drinks". Mittal could not tolerate the harassment she went through in her job career, so she finally quit the corporate world in 2010 and decided to do something of her own.

She decided to be a crusader against such maltreatment instead of a victim, and that's how "Be.artsy" was born. "I decided to build Be.artsy to be the responsible Awareness Experts helping organisations in equipping people (employees and other stakeholders) to feel belonged to their workplaces," Mittal said.

As more and more people at workplaces are striving hard to enjoy safety, and occupational, financial, and emotional health, Be.artsy provides solutions like creating awareness and sensitising employers and employees.

It was not a cakewalk for Mittal to start Be.artsy, the entrepreneur faced several challenges in building the awareness enterprise. This is because few companies spoke about sexual harassment a decade ago, and victims were also reluctant in expressing their miseries. Moreover, it was tough to convince the firms about the significance of sensitising their workforce, as sexual harassment was considered a measly issue for companies to allocate financial resources. Surprisingly, Mittal got her first big break from beverage firm PepsiCo in 2013.

Over more than 10 years into the venture, Mittal's for-profit social enterprise has clocked over 2 crore of revenue and has over 300 plus clients including Airtel, American Express, Club Mahindra, Tata Power, etc.

Mittal says, "The top challenge in meeting Be.artsy’s objective is to create demand for the services we offer. Indian organisations are evolving rapidly but are yet to fully commit to building their company's culture that drives safety and happiness". According to Mittal, initiatives in many Indian companies are compliance-driven and lack leadership buy-in. She is still trying to hunt a solution to this problem.

How companies can avoid workplace harassment, especially against women?

According to Mittal, "A company of the people, for the people, by the people is that appreciates investing time and resources in building happy and safe workplaces for women and for everyone else". She believes that the company's promoters should be the supreme leader in making a workplace people oriented before profits, "it should not be HR's job in the first place," she added.

Sexual Harassment in Indian companies:

Mittal said that cases of sexual harassment are higher in those organisations which focus on profits before people. And, in order to eradicate such malpractices in an organisation, Pareek said that two ingredients are required--first, the top executives of a firm, who can admit that it is a reality without feeling any shame about it. Secondly, individuals need to speak up, irrespective of the absence/presence of the former. "If we have both ingredients, we will address this problem statement quickly and fast, but we aren't that lucky!"

Indian law against sexual harassment:

The POSH Act protects against sexual harassment in the workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013. It broadened the Vishaka guidelines, which were already in place since 1997. The 2021 National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data reported 17,539 cases of sexual harassment in the country of which 418 were from workplace or office premises. The NCRB report revealed that Assam, Haryana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal had the most cases of workplace sexual harassment against women.

Mansi Jaswal
I write about gender-related issues, women's rights, women empowerment, gender equality, women's health topics, and their wealth management. Also, profiling women who have fought all odds to make their own identities in their own rights. Before Mint, I worked at Business Today and Business Standard. I studied journalism at IIMC, Delhi. Got a story idea? Email me at mansi.jaswal@htdigital.in
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Updated: 08 Mar 2023, 01:57 PM IST
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