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Case Study: Earn That Right!

“What, at root, is justice? When I speak to children about the Preamble to our Constitution, I explain justice as ‘being fair’. But how can one be fair if the laws are not adequate and the interpreters of the law not sensitive? ...Over the years,women have been treated as second-class citizens despite constituting half the human race. They are particularly vulnerable because of the patriarchal mindset that affects every aspect of their lives...” — Justice Leila Seth in author's note in her book Talking of Justice: People’s Rights in Modern India

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Shyamak walked down the 8th floor briskly, looking for Ananya. She was in a casual discussion with some colleagues in her station, when she saw Shyamak at the door. “Sorry, you are looking for me? Give me a second,” she said and soon left the room to join Shyamak in the corridor.

“Let’s talk at lunch,” he said. “ I want to share some thoughts with you.” Ananya agreed.

At lunch, they chose a table by the window and took their food bags there. “I have been thinking about all that you told me,” said Shyamak. “I shared it without mentioning your name, with my wife Cyra, because she works with an IT major and these are serious issues in her company. She was stunned by your stance, at first. Then she said to me, “That is a rather unusual, yet powerful stance to take. I would like to do likewise, but I do not have the inner wiring for that.” We talked some more and we finally concluded that there is no sense in your staying on so unhappily at Kayplas. Cyra too feels that if you don’t feel any oneness with K-brands, it is actually an unhealthy sign. If you feel nothing for the company except dislike, then you must disengage from Kayplas. But not without a good pow-wow,” ended Shyamak.

Ananya was not moved. But she respected Shyamak and asked him to elaborate.

Shyamak: Cyra agrees you must not simply quit and make life easy for the folks at Kayplas. You must fight. But Ananya, your stance is maverick and even doable, but I do feel – and supported by Cyra – you need to bring this out in the open so that women in the organisation are in the know that such a monster continues to lurk.

“Don’t you agree Ananya? Should you put at risk the lives of other women in a bid to live life differently?”

Ananya: What am I doing? Each one should fight her battle, Shyamak. Please don’t be insane and plant upon me the weakness of others.

Shyamak: All right. Taken. But I do feel the strong have to help the not-so-strong. It is a responsibility that comes with strength. I mean it. Understand, every woman comes with a different set of experiences and wiring. Not everyone will respond to a JD-moment the way you have. Some may actually suffer!

Ananya: So much theatrics, Shyamak! But come to the main point.

Shyamak: I have told you, report this to the CEO (Anil Desai). Ask for HR to be there too. Make a formal verbal complaint and follow it up with a written one.

Ananya: But they already know what happened.

Shyamak: ‘Knowing’ is different from a direct complaint. Who knows what Freida Mistry relayed? Don’t forget she is far older than you in age, belongs to another era; has grown in the organisation with JD, Desai.... they are unlabelled buddies. She may either have felt a solidarity with her batch friends or, she was likely extremely unable to talk about it!

As she relented, Shyamak could see her struggle and inner disquiet growing. Feeling bad at the role he was having to play, Shyamak said, “Ananya, there is a way to handle these situations. Your logic appeals to me, but finally it is the organisation that we owe our allegiance to. I believe, like you too, that the brand is different from its workers, hence the Kayplas brand is different from the people who make it up. Those people are employees, the corporate brand’s servants. They owe a duty and a responsibility to keep it pure. Wholesome. Working. Successful. Productive and capable. The people only move hands and feet to bring together the resources needed to deliver the organisation goals.”

At lunch, when Cyra saw Ananya at the coffee shop, Cyra’s instant reaction was to go ‘Ohhh!’ and cover her mouth in shock. “She is so small and frail!” she exclaimed to Shyamak and then gathering Ananya in a warm embrace, she said, “I am so sorry! Gosh, what a monster that he could even bring such horrific thoughts to his mind!”

Now Ananya was overcome. Much as she bravely fought it, small tears threatened her eyes. “I am just very angry,” she said.

Cyra: And rightfully! You must be more than angry, even sock them in the face if you want. I would say, go for it girl! It might put some sense into that idiot!

ananya giggled, now feeling very assured. Then, she said, “I want to make this clear, I am not complaining that a man made foolish overtures; I am complaining that even after it was reported, the organisation did damn all. My anger is with Kayplas for failing to protect and be fair to its employee stakeholders. Not to mention, honest by its brand.”

Cyra: I understand. I fully understand. For some of us women, such men are water off a duck’s back. What a man does to a woman’s self-respect she must do to his ego – his weak centre. But leave that be. Coming to propriety – and sorry if it sounds rushed; it’s just that we have so little time in which to say all this and drink that coffee and get back to work, ha ha. OK, So, one, I feel,overall an employee should feel engaged and passionate about the organisation she works for, if not, she should leave. I do think you have not resolved this in your heart fully and are burning in that anger. Hence you need to find closure. Therefore, two, I feel you must personally record this episode with HR in the presence of the CEO. I feel this is a moral responsibility.

Shyamak: There you are! We can strategise how to arrange the meetings... as Cyra says, this moral responsibility arises from a duty to let the organisation know what has happened. Freida may have been summary, I suspect. She did say she was retiring month-end and may have been unwilling to rock the boat that could threaten her superannuation as well.

Anyway, leave all that be. Zero base this whole thing, call Maanika, Desai’s secretary, and find a slot in the diary this week itself.

desai was reluctant to have the meeting that week, complained he was travelling. Ananya pushed, said this was more important for the organisation, than any travel he was doing.

Yet when the meeting was fixed, Desai came with the head of legal Mantoo Shroff and the firm’s lawyers Bright & Thakur’s legal partner, Ketan Shah. Freida sent word regretting inability to attend.

Ananya waited for them to be seated and expected that CEO Desai would do a preamble and then allow her to appeal or present. Naïve that was, for Desai had already briefed Ketan Shah and Shroff before coming to the conference hall. And picking up from there, he said, “As discussed with you, Ananya Rajan here joined just a few months ago and already has a problem with our management. She alleges one of them behaved inappropriately with her… and…

“That is misleading!” said Ananya, feeling terrible that she stood alone in a room where four others were ‘management’. “The ‘one’ in the management with whom I have a problem, has a name and must be named. And I am surprised he is not present here. Since you have come armed with lawyers and things, we must speak the truth. The manager in question is J.D. Virk, commonly called JD. He was my boss for three months when I was in financial planning…”

When Ananya finished there was silence for a minute. Then, she detailed that she had spoken to another senior manager, Freida Mistry in Planning, and what transpired thereof. That caused Ketan Shah to crinkle his eyes. “Can she be called in?” he asked Desai.

Desai: She has been unwell.

Ananya did not offer any clarification or support but waited for Shah to continue.

Shah (to Ananya): Did you complain to HR or to Desai?

Ananya: No, I did not. Ms Mistry said she would guide me, help me.

Shah: What did she say?

When Ananya shared all that happened, Shah asked Ananya, “Usually people in your situation are known to resign, leave the organisation. You did not. Why?”

Ananya: I have not done any wrong, why should I leave? If anyone should leave, it is JD. Yet no one thinks he must go! I see the organisation wanting to protect him and not me! Yes, he was obnoxious and I think HR (she said looking at Parthiv Vaidya, the HR manager) must have him psychologically treated. That makes the case for him to be sacked greater than for me to leave. How do you even make such a suggestion?

Shah: My job is to ask, young lady. I would have thought the outrage that such an experience causes would be enough for anyone to quit.

Ananya: I am more outraged by Kayplas’s response to this than by JD’s perversion. I am not a quitter, Mr Shah, and there are millions of career barriers like JD infecting the world. How long will you keep quitting jobs? Then again, cossetted by wealth what would you or, for that matter, Mr Desai or JD, know about survival? They do not have the pressures of EMIs, but a majority of us do. And, as an accountant, I should know the market well. Especially a market that is giving out less jobs these days, and when experts are predicting a second recession soon. We women don’t quit, Mr Shah. Not anymore.

Shah looked hard at Ananya for some time when Parthiv spoke, “How do you expect to continue serving this organisation?”

Ananya was startled. “What do you mean continue serving? How come you have not asked this same question to JD? Should you not be asking him ‘How do you expect to continue serving this organisation?’ I am really stunned that each of you here feels I am the one who is in the wrong. Mr Shah wants me to leave, you doubt my capability to serve Kayplas, Mr Desai wanted me to ‘concentrate on my work’! I am in the dock as far as you go. Why is JD not being questioned? Unless you think his behaviour was exemplary? Why isn't he here?

Parthiv: You continue to be angry four months after the event. Do think about it. If you want to work here, you need to correct your demeanour. Anyway, you may leave now. We have what we needed from you. We will get back to you.

Ananya was most confounded. “Get back to you”? Were they holding her responsible? How blatant was their denial!

Back in the conference room, the four men stared at their interlocked fingers that lay taut on the table.

Desai: I had warned you, she is abrasive, rebellious.

Shroff: To my mind, the way forward is to transfer her to Chennai factory. It will get her mind off all this, change the flavour….

Parthiv: I am not sure that is going to be easy as she has some medical commitments towards her parents.

Desai: Now, what all can we be doing?

Parthiv: But I agree, her perspective about why should she suffer versus JD, is dysfunctional for her and for the organisation. I see that continuing to work where she is not happy will twist her personality, make her very negative. All this is not going to add quality to her performance! I can already see that, in the long run, she can be evaluated as an average/poor performer.

shah thought about this. There was merit to what Parthiv was saying from an HR and organisation point of view. Ananya needed to rein in as otherwise all this frothing on the inside would affect her self-image and soon, her personality and her career for the long term.

“What incentive do you have for her to resign?” he asked Desai and Parthiv.

Parthiv looked at Desai who puckered his mouth a bit and raised and dropped his eyebrows in confusion. “What incentive? She can be a nuisance and I have not heard anything exceptional recorded in her files.”

Parthiv: She is a good worker but bear in mind she has been around just a bit over half a year. Plus, she comes from the finest firm of accountants.

Shroff: She is like a live wire. High maintenance. My worry is, if you keep her, she can certainly publicise the story sooner or later within the company, a bit here, a bit there…. and also through social media! She will stew in this anger and try to affect JD and Kayplas.

Desai: Maybe we ask JD to resign on health grounds….or some such…

Shah: Health grounds? Why health grounds?

Desai: JD has two years to retirement. He can stand to lose some of his superannuation, gratuity and such. It is a sizeable packet! That is why we do not want this to become an issue.

Shroff: You are needlessly anxious. ‘Grave misconduct’ will have to be proved to impact superannuation disbursement. Where is the proof?

Parthiv: Shroff, I am stunned by your stance. JD has wronged. That is why we are here. Let us not lose sight of that. Ananya’s word is proof.

Shah: The law will seek to see if JD had the ‘absolute devotion’ necessary for his employers and employment. His actions must enable achieving the organisational goals – not just him but enable others too. Clearly his actions have not enabled that. An employee has been distressed to a point where she is unable to engage with the organisation effectively. That can be the argument against him.

Shroff, these are things that should be well handled by senior management and elegantly too, with an eye to protecting further damage to the organisation image. But if you want to talk law, let me say this: Yes, the nature of offence depends on evidence available, whether it was porn or not, and so on. Of course, he gets the right to explain himself. But as a legal man, it looks like a clear situation to me.

Desai: Gentlemen, you are taking this too far. There is no need to drag the law in. It is just two years to his retirement…

Shah: Sorry, Anil bhai. Your angle is about protecting JD’s superannuation. Damn proof, evidence and all that blah. Let’s talk as gentlemen, since you call all of us that. Superannuation is not an unconditional right. Even if you say it is, I believe organisations should be run on the steam of moral law. Rights have to be earned. You cannot just say, ‘Give it to me, it is my right’. Earn it!

There is a culture of rights in everyone’s mind. ‘I am of given caste, a job is my right, an admission is my right’; ‘I am my father’s son, his car/ wealth is my right’; ‘I am this or that, to enter your place of worship is my right.’ Who says? ‘I have worked 30 years, pension is my right!’ How is that? Perhaps perpetrated by organisations that do not demand conduct.

JD, too, somewhere harbors a feeling that his retirement benefits is a right, which he cannot lose now and the company backs this thought. Why does it become a right? Has he kept his end of the deal? Has he shown ‘absolute devotion’ to the company?

I believe the same for inheritance too. Children should not be made unconditional inheritors of your estate. There should be a clause that compels them to be good citizens, a clause that demands right behaviour! And that goodness must be proven at the time of the inheritance passing. Let them earn it!

Did you know Bill Gates’s $70 billion wealth will not go to his children but to a Trust to help the poorest poor of the world? He says he has given his children the best education to kickstart their careers. And they did not drag him to court! So, you see, this nonsense about JD lolling about demanding his rights makes me want to throw up. If he thinks he has a right, he had better earn it.

Shroff: Ketan bhai, this is India, samjhe ne? The right to superannuation is granted to employees and JD under the terms of their contract. And that is sacred.

Shah: And you will confer that gratuity regardless of any misdemeanor?

Shroff (shouting): Where is the misdemeanor? Can you prove it?

shah stood up. He wished Desai the best and said, “I see this is an internal matter. You wanted my legal opinion. I have given that. It’s your choice how to run this organisation. Sorry, I got carried away.”

When Shah got off the lift, he saw Ananya prepare to enter the lift. Stopping her, he said, “I want to leave you with a friendly advice. You are not wrong in your fight and you must stand up for what is right.

However, one should be careful how far to take this. If it becomes a crusade that is pursued too long, it will also affect you negatively from within and cause people to think you are unbalanced. And if I asked you about leaving Kayplas, it was not because someone harassed you. I suggested that because it does not seem like it will be resolved. And you need to find closure and start on a new page. Because you are a strong person who has a lot to give the world.”

Ananya was at a loss for words as she walked with Shah to the parking. She thanked him sincerely for his words and said, “Very kind of you, Sir, to stop to counsel me. And you are not even my boss….I will ponder over your words for sure.”

Then, as Shah got into his car and shut his side of the door, Ananya bent to speak to him through the passenger side window, which he began to lower. She said, “I feel what a woman goes through during and after an experience of sexual harassment/assault/threat... is unique and no words can describe its aftermath. Men will undermine her state of mind, because they don’t understand. They can’t understand. It is an experiential thing... a gender thing, a feeling that nature gives only to women.”

Shah heard her intently as she added, “The state of feeling agitated, wronged, outraged... stays with the woman. Truth is, as long as laws for women are made by men, women will remain second-class citizens.”

Shah turned to face her and said, “Then, change the way you conduct your battle. Don’t waste your time in these long pauses. Your adversary has found a way to beat the law. He runs with a pack. Find your pack! Start winning!”  
To be continued...