Monday, November 29, 1999

Infotech sector has learnt its lessons the hard way

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Country-boy techie to cosmopolitan global business manager. That is how a top honcho described the attitude change needed among infotech personnel back in 2002, when the industry was rocked by biggest ever sexual harassment suit in corporate India. In 2010, the industry is still trying to make the transition. Phaneesh Murthy, the erstwhile head of Infosys Global Sales and the company's highest paid executive then, had to quit in 2002 after a former employee based in the US sued him and Infosys for sexual harassment. In an out-of-court settlement with Reka Maximovitch, Infosys and Murthy together had to shell out $ 3 million. Phaneesh Murthy reached an out-of-court settlement in another sex abuse suit. Jennifer Griffith, the complainant, received $ 800,000 - half of it from the company's insurers.What followed the Maximovitch scandal was an industry-wide reaction. The idea was to tell managers and techies what constitutes gender discrimination, age discrimination and decent, non-competitive behaviour. "It became part of the induction programme and mandatory refresher modules - everybody was told about acceptable behaviour and what constitutes indecency and harassment, especially with women," Nilanjana Biswas, a former employee of Alcatel-Lucent and Sun Microsystems and currently a women's rights activist, said. The "country-boy" image that Vivek Paul, the former vice-president of Wipro, painted in an interview is still relevant. "We get people coming from different walks of life with different backgrounds," Nasscom vice-president Sangeeta Gupta said, adding: "Therefore, gender inclusion is a critical part of the industry's practices." It is even more important as the IT-BPO sector, with a 2.2-million workforce, employs 30 per cent women and an even bigger share of women as new entrants, Gupta noted.The Supreme Court directives on preventing sexual harassment at the workplace have been adopted by the IT sector. Chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy set up Infosys Women's Inclusivity Network (IWIN) in 2003 to prevent sexual harassment and gender discrimination. "Gender-related challenges" he addressed included "stereotyped roles, skills required to manage the long hours, etc". IWIN includes an advisory body to influence management policies. Top managers and independent ombudsmen are a part of such bodies. However, such full-fledged systems exist only for big companies. "Many small BPOs lack them," Gupta acknowledged. "But small companies have the advantage of staffers being familiar with each other, and issues come upfront immediately," Gupta pointed out. Women's rights groups that kept a vigil on sexual abuse issues noted that they usually did not get harassment cases from the IT sector. "They have their own mechanisms, and complaints do not get out," Donna Fernandes of Vimochana said. "In special economic zone setups, even big companies sometimes do not strictly adhere to guidelines," Karthik Shekar, general secretary of IT workers' union UNITES Professionals, said. UNITES has set up a hotline for sexual harassment complaints.Reproduced From Mail Today. Copyright 2010. MTNPL. All rights reserved. Follow us on Twitter!

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