SANYA TALWAR WALKS THE POSH TALK WITH LEARNNOVATORS

In this exclusive interview with Learnnovators, Sanya Talwar, Editor at LawBeat and an Independent POSH & Gender Consultant, offers many valuable take-aways for making organizations safe for women.

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

SANYA TALWAR WALKS THE POSH TALK WITH LEARNNOVATORS

ABOUT SANYA TALWAR:

Sanya Talwar is an independent legal services professional with diverse experience. Her scope of work includes assisting organizations from diverse sectors on the law against sexual harassment & on adopting gender-sensitization. Her advisory, training and inquiry skills come with solid legal and psycho-social acumen & her eventful legal career that spans over 7 years.

She is also an Editor at LawBeat & an empanelled counsellor at Delhi State Legal Services Authority.

Sanya believes that sexual harassment at the workplace needs to be nipped right in the bud, simply because it attacks at the root of equal opportunities guaranteed to every citizen.

ABOUT THIS INTERVIEW SERIES:

Walking the POSH Talk with Learnnovators is an interview series that features outstanding HR leaders who are pioneers of workplace practices that ensure safety, equality, diversity in their organizations. Specifically, these HR leaders share their experiences related to the implementation of Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) compliance within their workplaces.

Join us on this exciting journey as we learn from their successes, as well as their setbacks and challenges, and seize the opportunity to hear their unique perspectives on the subject.

This initiative is part of Learnnovators’ commitment to helping organizations in India make their workplaces safe for their women employees.

THE INTERVIEW:

1. LEARNNOVATORS: LawBeat is a communication channel that has been focusing on making law accessible to the general public in our country. It’s a pleasure to have you, the Editor of LawBeat, here to discuss about the prevention of sexual harassment at our workplaces.

As an experienced consultant in the field of Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace (POSH), you have been sharing not just news, but also your views on issues related to sexual harassment through your platform. You have been trying to help the community better understand the nuances of the POSH Act and the different ways in which it can be interpreted. What does your experience say about workplace harassment in our country from the perspective of a legal journalist?

SANYA TALWAR: I started working in the space of sexual harassment about 3 years ago, prior to which I was a full-time litigator. Legal journalism from the purview of court reporting came much later! When I began reporting from the courts, I realized that POSH & legal journalism are two areas I really enjoyed. It was absolutely non-negotiable to drop either of the two!

In my view, this diversification really broadened my perspectives. Firstly, because when I was conducting POSH awareness trainings & engaging with people and reporting from the Supreme Court of India as well, the exposure to current affairs really raised the bar of my trainings. Both sectors are foundationally focused on discourse, awareness & transparency, so I like to believe that they are not entirely different spheres! Today, if you open any newspaper, news from the courts often make national headlines. This incessant exposure to the courts has proven to be extremely beneficial to my skill set and knowledge.

Now, as someone who leads a small team of reporters pan India and has a hawk’s eye on every court of the country, I am exposed to the daily grind of litigations as an outsider. Let us not forget the pendency of court cases which runs into crores; this only furthers my conviction that the need to educate people about the law against sexual harassment is extremely important, considering that the law has a time-bound redressal mechanism.

2. LEARNNOVATORS: According to Deloitte India’s ‘Creating a safe work environment – Best practices to deal with sexual harassment at the work place’ survey report, around 71% of respondents identified “making information available on their company’s intranet or HR portal” as the most preferred way to spread awareness about sexual harassment and preventive behaviors. 52% of respondents indicated training programs as helpful in understanding what constitutes sexual harassment. As a person who believes that sexual harassment at workplace needs to be nipped right in the bud simply because it causes not only mental damage but attacks at the root of equal opportunities guaranteed to every citizen, what strategies would you propose to raise awareness about sexual harassment at workplaces? What methods do you think work well for organizations and what don’t?

SANYA TALWAR: Though I’ve assisted a number of organizations in the law against sexual harassment, the first rule I follow is TO UNDERSTAND AND RECOGNISE the issues that the organization encounters or may have encountered in the past while dealing with sexual harassment. My strategy is to enter every organization, not as an “expert” but as a “change-maker”. I believe that though my foundational concepts have to remain solidified, malleability and thinking on one’s feet are very important as every organization, every industry, sometimes even regions, have different requirements and different issues. An organization’s stakeholders know their organization best, much better than I do and the bigger picture cannot be painted in beautiful colours without the paint brushes!

Needless to say, sexual harassment trainings whether via portal or person-to-person training, regardless of their efficacy, can never be a one-time measure. Every stakeholder must engage in discourse to really make a difference. A combination of intranet trainings, in-person discourses, surveys, reminder mails & evolving policies is what is required.

But if you ask me, I am old school. I firmly believe that “discourse, not imposition” is the way to generate awareness. That is only possible if stakeholders engage in conversations, which at times can get “uncomfortable” too.

3. LEARNNOVATORS: As per this Marching Sheep Survey that is “focused on a specific aspect of policies within organizations, i.e. the relevance of the POSH Act and Policy in the new normal considering the emerging current realities that have surfaced,” one of the key priorities is to add the redressal of domestic violence to the POSH Act and Policy. As an empanelled legal counsellor who has been actively involved in assisting sexual assault victims, would you agree with the suggestion that, despite the protection the POSH Act offers, the current conditions require a widening of its ambit to cover domestic violence? What are your views on this?”

SANYA TALWAR: The Domestic Violence Act and the POSH Act are separate legislations, originally enacted with different demographics and perspectives in mind. While both legislations emanate from the supreme law of the land stipulating special legislations for women, their scope and application differs. Of course, with people being confined to their home and WFH dominating workplaces over the past year, domestic violence has become a rising menace. Conditions of lockdown – isolation, social distancing, and restrictions on freedom of movement— are the very conditions that feed into the hands of abuse. Educating all stakeholders in the organization about both the legislations and channeling resources into Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are extremely important. I think both legislations can be delved into symbiotically during training and awareness sessions.

4. LEARNNOVATORS: You say, “Every person working in the space of Prevention of Sexual Harassment & Gender-based Violence is REQUIRED to make people sit up and take notice… because if not now, then when?” As somebody who is spearheading woman empowerment, we would like to have your thoughts on the recent view to widen the scope of the POSH Act to also include harassments related to gender bias (discriminatory acts that may not be of a sexual nature) happening in workplaces. Since we do not have any specific legislation for preventing or redressing these types of harassments, would you agree with the suggestion? If not, based on your experience, how do you think a system can be established within the country to help women handle these challenges at work?

SANYA TALWAR: I don’t agree with Mr. Gowda that gender bias should be included in the POSH Act. The reason for this is that the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013 is a special legislation formulated specifically for addressing issues related to sexual harassment. Though the Act does have many fallacies and implementation has not been as effective as was envisaged, to say that both issues can be clubbed under one Act is a very misplaced suggestion. In fact, the Kerala High Court (In DR. PRASAD PANNIAN Vs. CENTRAL UNIVERSITY OF KERALA, December 9, 2020) has specifically clarified that gender bias will not attract provisions under the POSH Act. The court has stated that only any form of sexual approach or behaviour that is unwelcome will come under the definition of ‘sexual harassment’ and it is not confined to any of the sub clauses mentioned in Section 2(n), which of course will depend upon the materials placed on record and on a case to case basis.

I don’t think the minister understood that special legislations are enacted for specific purposes. This no way means gender bias is not an issue in our country or that it needs no redressal. Gender sensitisation and gender mainstreaming must be thrusted upon at every level of an organization in order to adopt a holistic approach to POSH and to address gender-based discrimination at workplaces. Anti-discrimination policies must specifically stipulate gender-based discrimination and procedures established by law must be adopted to conduct investigations into these complaints as well.

5. LEARNNOVATORS: To quote this The New York Times article, “Women are living in a world that’s made for men. Whether it’s the cars they drive or the medicines they take, they’ve almost all been developed with men in mind. And that can have life-threatening consequences for women.” At the same time, we are also inspired by this news that talks about how Unilever has achieved 50/50 gender balance across its global leadership team. Interestingly, we also see other organizations such as Etihad Airways following suit by pledging to increase its female workforce over the next few years. In this context, would you agree with the view that sexual harassment is NOT something that can be addressed in isolation, but is a topic that needs to be looked at from a broader perspective of diversity and inclusion? If yes, what would be your suggestion to organizations and to the Government to take steps in that direction?

SANYA TALWAR: Absolutely! Diversity, inclusion and sexual harassment may be different concepts altogether but they inherently work in collusion, both towards making positive changes and avoiding negative outcomes. Representation of women, LGBTQ+ persons and persons from marginalized communities, is vital to bring different perspectives on the table and assess situations effectively when they occur in real time as well. Gender mainstreaming as a strategy to incorporate a gender perspective in any planned action is the ultimate means to an end, the end being, achieving gender equality which will help in eliminating biases, stereotypes & discrimination. Every organization must work towards:

  1. Recognizing biases and removing them
  2. Creating gender nuanced policies
  3. Offering structural support and promoting women’s participation in leadership and decision-making

6. LEARNNOVATORS: As per this book (from Economic Laws Practice) aimed at simplifying the intricacies involved in handling matters of sexual harassment at the workplace, “…in India, the POSH Act is wide in its application and open for interpretation. Sometimes, POSH Act is even considered biased in favor of women.” As a person who is passionate about diversity and inclusion, what are your views on this? Would you agree with the thought that our present POSH Act—which is not gender neutral since it protects only women—is in dire need of a makeover to create a more gender-equal world? Why or why not?

SANYA TALWAR: Absolutely disagree. The POSH Act was formulated after years of struggle, and years of patriarchy, which continues to thrive. I quote this from an article I had written, titled “feminist or feminazi”, narrating my experience as a trainer: “There seems to be a thorough disregard for something as simple as this – Rights are NOT privileges. Rights are the means to an end. Rights entail sustenance. Women standing up for their rights is not a privilege. It is a necessity. It is a dire need for any society’s development. Indeed, there are lacunae in the laws which lead to many people using them to their own advantage, but isn’t that true for all laws? Aren’t loopholes found by those looking for them in order to achieve their means? Then what is so special about women-specific legislations?”

Working in the space of women and rights, the biggest challenge I have faced is having to justify my “neutrality” when it comes to different genders. Some of the most common questions I am asked as a trainer for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) are: “What about male victims?” or “What do you think of the misuse of the women specific laws?”

“As a trainer and awareness expert for the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace, I am often looked at as a crusader for women rights, and that is great because I am exactly that and much more, but the problem comes when the context of every spoken word is weighed and juxtaposed in light of false cases of rape, sexual harassment and other sexual crimes against women which entail male victimization. It is here that I often end up justifying that I am all for the due process of law, against media trials and a thorough supporter of gender neutral laws around sexual crimes (which includes not only men but also transgender people and others). Shamefully, I begin my march of speaking up for all that I stand for, in order to justify my feminist ideology, trying to extrapolate why women need specific legislations in India, as if it is something to be apologetic for.”

However, to answer your question, about whether or not I am someone who supports gender-neutrality in the Act, I do. I think any person can be sexually harassed, whether it’s a man or a woman. This discourse has already begun in the international and national space. I think it will be a reality soon.

7. LEARNNOVATORS: We are undergoing a dramatic shift in the way we work today, and one of our major challenges is to ensure the safety of women employees working from home. As per reports, newer, subtler forms of sexual harassment seem to be on the rise, though our workplace safety frameworks remain largely untouched. You too feel that ‘now that we are physically separated but 𝙫𝙞𝙧𝙩𝙪𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙮 𝙘𝙡𝙤𝙨𝙚𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙣 𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧, unwelcome conduct is still, in no way thoroughly absent’. How successful have you been in revisiting your POSH policies and processes to accommodate the needs of your remote workers in this COVID era? What strategies do you find working well and what not so well? Can you share these with our readers, please?

SANYA TALWAR: I have found that corporate India is rapidly adapting to the changing times and technology is bolstering every arena of our lives. Sexual harassment laws have been formulated keeping in mind the extended workplaces as well and recently, the courts have also affirmed that work from home will include “workplace”.

In terms of the law, I have found that including “sensitivity to the person on the other side of the screen” in my awareness trainings has really amped up the discourse during these unprecedented times.

People need to understand that there is a real person on the other side of the device. This sense of disconnect and blurring of lines has led to a lack of empathy. Addressing this has been most challenging.

8. LEARNNOVATORS: And finally, we would like to recall this both shocking and inspiring message by Susan Fowler, former Uber engineer and the author of Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber, who had to face a terrifying time after she spoke out against sexual harassment at Uber: “Speaking up comes at great personal cost. Being a whistleblower is not easy. It is not glamorous or fun. It will terrify you and scare you and forever change your life in ways that will be beyond your control. But, despite all of this, shining a light in the darkness is the right thing to do. In some cases, like my own, it is the only way to leave the world better than you found it.” As someone who has been standing up for a cause without any fear, what would be your advice to those around us who are silent victims of sexual misconduct at work to become Silence Breakers to help themselves and the world around them?

SANYA TALWAR: I like to project awareness through thought provoking illustrations and there was a recent one I did with an illustrator depicting “speak up… if you can”.

It says, “We know it’s not easy, take your time! Speak up if you can!” I firmly believe that though speaking up against sexual harassment is necessary, sometimes it may be hard as well. As people, we must be mindful of that and instead work on creating spaces which are safe enough for people to be able to convey their discomfort and/or trauma. Thus, to simply state that one must be a silence breaker is nugatory if the bigger picture is missing. As a country and as a society, we have to separate the grain from the chaff, and seriously introspect the inherent biases and prejudices we still hold against women & the LGBTQ community. Are we really allowing them to have the stage, are we really creating spaces for them as a society to open up and speak?

9. LEARNNOVATORS: It is inspiring to know about your efforts to promote conversations around gender issues (gender equality and inclusivity) at workplaces in our country. With respect to our workplaces, we are sure you would agree that it’s important for everyone to join hands in making our country and the world a safer place for women. How do you view your contribution in this area? What is your vision to create a more gender-equal world? Being a senior member of the management, can you share some thoughts on this from an organizational perspective, please?

SANYA TALWAR: That’s my mantra. That is not to say that reservations for women are not important or should be scraped off. What I mean is, a woman should never be turned away from a job prospect, even though she has the same credentials as a man competing with her, just because she is a woman and stereotypes are ruling the roost in the mind of the recruiter. I think our laws are firm, our government is making efforts and our people want change. The work has to begin right at the grassroots, and innovative minds must be recruited on the ground to formulate gender-nuanced approaches in every sphere.

To give you an insight into LawBeat, we are still a young organization, but 90% of our reporting and research staff is currently female. These women are brilliant (not to say that the men aren’t)!

LEARNNOVATORS: Before we sign off, we’d like to thank you so much for your time today, Sanya. We’ve had an amazing time listening to your insights on dealing with sexual harassment, diversity, and inclusion at workplaces. We are confident that the community will immensely benefit from these takeaways. Thank you!

(Visited 395 times, 1 visits today)

More To Explore

E-Learning

ZSOLT OLAH – CRYSTAL BALLING WITH LEARNNOVATORS

In this enlightening interview with Learnnovators, Zsolt Olah shares his pioneering insights on the integration of technology and learning in the workplace. As an expert in blending gamification with psychological insights, Zsolt discusses the evolution of learning technologies and their impact on creating engaging and effective learning environments. He emphasizes the importance of not letting technology dictate our thinking and the need for learning professionals to master data literacy and ask the right questions to harness AI’s potential. Zsolt’s forward-thinking vision for utilizing Generative AI to create seamless, personalized learning experiences highlights the transformative power of these technologies.

E-Learning

MARGIE MEACHAM – CRYSTAL BALLING WITH LEARNNOVATORS (SEASON II)

In this engaging interview with Learnnovators, Margie, known for her innovative use of artificial intelligence in educational strategies, discusses the integration of AI and neuroscience in creating compelling, personalized learning experiences that challenge traditional methods and pave the way for the future of training and development. Margie’s vision for utilizing AI to facilitate ‘just-in-time’ learning that adapts to individual needs exemplifies her creativity and forward-thinking.

Instructional Design

INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN BASICS – GOALS

This article emphasizes the importance of goals in instructional design. A goal, at the macro level, answers the WIIFM for the business. Broken down into a more micro level, it defines the specific actions learners need to take to reach the goal. This article focuses on the macro, business, goals and lists the characteristics of a good goal. It also discusses how to derive a good goal from a bad one by asking probing questions.

REQUEST DEMO