The ‘Me Too’ movement exposed one ugly truth of the Indian work environment - workplaces were often not really safe for women. Around this same time, Aparajita Amar was gearing up to launch her startup - Sexual Harassment Law Compliance (SHLC). The 25-year-old lawyer wanted to make workplaces safer for women, and POSH (prevention of sexual harassment) compliant.
“I had already started working on my startup, but it so happened that the launch coincided with the ‘Me Too’ movement picking up pace in the country,” says Aparajita. The movement that gained momentum in October 2018 further helped raise awareness about sexual harassment at the workplace, she says.
The differentiating factor
SHLC works with startups, corporate houses and universities to help sensitise the management and staff to sexual harassment at the workplace and encourage them to implement POSH guidelines. The New Delhi-based startup has lawyers, counsellors, psychologists and chartered accountants on board to provide customised and specialised services. SHLC’s work goes beyond conducting training sessions and sexual harassment audits to include counselling services.
“The counselling service is what sets us apart from others who operate in the same space. Sometimes, when an allegation has been made, the concerned authorities looking into it need to stay unbiased. Our counsellors help them do that. It can be overwhelming for all parties concerned - from the HR personnel, the victim, to the members of the ICC (internal complaints committee),” says Aparajita.
One of the key takeaways from the workshops they conduct is that despite a lot of talk around ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘Me Too’, there is a lack of sufficient understanding of the issues, she adds.
“However, interaction and role-playing have helped employees, employers, and HRs be receptive and actually understand the need for a holistic approach. Every workshop helps us see the subjectivity of sexual harassment and how its definition needs to be adapted and trained for. With the growing dynamic nature of the workplace, we aim to customise our services to suit this evolving definition,” Aparajita points out.
According to SHLC, organisations across the board, including corporates, universities and startups, have been positive in accepting the wholesome outlook of POSH compliance.
In four years, close to 2,000 cases of sexual harassment of women at the workplace were registered till December 12, 2017, according to government data - translating to at least one complaint every day.
A 2017 report by the Indian National Bar Association states that nearly 70 percent of respondents did not complain to their company’s internal committee or to the management fearing retaliation and repercussions. And over 65 percent felt that their company did not follow processes described under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. On the competition for SHLC, Aparajita says there are several organisations in the field.
“There are people who have been doing excellent work even before we started. But, there are so many offices and everyone has a different way of dealing with it. Our emphasis is more on making sure your employees understand the issue in a way that does not affect their mental health. They should not feel scared,” she adds.
Tailor-made solutions for all
Mumbai-based Rainmaker and Bengaluru-based Serein are among other companies working towards creating POSH-compliant workplaces. The lawyer-entrepreneur also emphasises that awareness sessions are at the core of what they do to ensure that an organisation’s stand is “neither pro victim nor pro respondent”.
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 states that every organisation that has more than 10 employees needs to have an ICC, which has to be reconstituted every three years. The committee must mandatorily have external members, and needs to report to the local complaints committee of the city it operates in, and give updates on the number of sexual harassment cases reported, along with the number of training sessions conducted during the year.
SHLC offers tailor-made customised training sessions because it believes each office has a different environment and needs. “For instance, some offices have more off-sites than others and their sensitisation requirements will be different than the ones who do not. Also, for instance, the needs of a public relations agency, a call centre, and an ad agency would be varied and we offer customised sessions for each one.”
A graduate of Amity Law School, Delhi, Aparajita had several job offers, and even got placed in a law firm. However, her heart was set on changing perceptions surrounding sexual harassment laws.
After finishing her law degree, she worked as a law researcher at the Delhi High Court, and completed a certification course on sexual harassment and workplace diversity from NUJS (National University of Juridical Sciences), Kolkata, before setting up SHLC.
“There was a negative view on the law among some family friends. This was due to the fact that some false complaints had escalated really fast. There was clearly a problem at hand. But it was not being addressed properly. The Act was there - but there was no resolution,” she says.
The Delhi-based startup also helps organisations in dealing with false complaints and acting against such complainants.
The company has a fee-based business model. At present, SHLC operates in the national capital region (NCR), and aims to expand to other cities such as Mumbai and Bengaluru through strategic tie-ups, says Aparajita.
It has a team of eight with a mix of full-time employees and consultants. According to Aparajita, SHLC is bootstrapped and not looking for funding at the moment.