Monthly Archives :

October 2017


Sexual Harassment at Workplace

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Why are corporates not naming and shaming managers who make sexual advances towards their colleagues? Sexual Harassment at work needs better attention from Boards, CEOs and HR

Hollywood recently exploded with revelations on sexual predation. The likes of which have never been seen before. Looks like the ill-kept secret of tinsel town got to a precipitative point to burst into a #metoo campaign.

Sexual Harassment is about Power

The incident reminded of the famous quote from the movie Disclosure. “Sexual harassment is about power and not about sex”.  That quote dragged my mind to our corporate life, which also has ‘power’ as the key element. However, only a few cases have been reported but they too have actually taken the settlement route. So making an assessment or an informed judgement is difficult. But it seems like serial offenders have taken up this territory. It’s shocking when people in power are repeatedly accused of crossing the line but are not punished. In the corporate world, people just leave jobs when caught if that is any punishment at all!

The most obvious explanation when somebody is accused of sexual harassment is it was ‘consensual. Yes, there are extramarital affairs which have gone wrong to be exploited as harassment. It’s not lost on many that people in power abuse their position to put their colleagues in compromising situations. Here ‘consent’ borders around abuse. The worst part is that a reasonable number of peers would be aware of these offenders. But they feel helpless or do not have reasonable trust with the organisation to escalate matters. When incidents break out they allude and acknowledge that such behaviours are prevalent.

 Case Studies

I spoke to a few HR heads to get more insights into how corporates have been dealing with it. Some of the incidents described are derived from these conversations highlighting the challenges around this sensitive issue.

An account manager stopped coming to work abruptly in a large consulting company.  She highlighted the inappropriate behaviour of her CEO but refused to file a complaint. It seems he would always call her for individual review meetings to another city at 9 AM. This meant she had to travel and stay in a hotel the previous night. On that night he would organise dinner with her. This became a regular feature. One such evening he took her to his suite on the pretext of showing her how the suite looked like. There he grabbed her arm, She ran away from the room and never reported to work again. She feared her family wouldn’t support her career further, the humiliation at work after reporting the case was understandably daunting.

The CEO lasted another three years. There were murmurs about his behaviour from departing female colleagues one brave girl eventually filed a complaint. The company negotiated compensation with the lady, sacked the CEO and their COO took over overnight. However, they did not call out the CEO who was their face in the media. I am sure they could have protected the girl’s privacy and still made an example out of him. We might soon this pest as a CEO in another firm.

Silent Organisations

I wonder how the system of reference checks work for senior executives. If sexual harassment like key conduct is never discovered by hiring employers, what else is checked? Also, I wonder what prevents such reputed companies from shaming these guys when there is evidence. Maybe they fear damage to their brand as an employer? But hushing up these things causes more damage to the brand as the word gets out through informal sources anyhow. By not making an example of such monsters organisations give birth to many such predators.

In an IT Consulting firm, a Senior VP had very high attrition amongst his Executive Assistants. When a departing EA complained about his sexual advances towards her, the organisation confronted him. He resigned as he was cornered in shame. Yet, nobody got to know why he left. The organisation was relieved that he quit on his own. They did not have to go through the embarrassment of explaining his separation with their staff. He joined a large pharma company in a senior role within three months. So the organisation if at all only passed on the problem to another employer.

Sexual Harassment: Solutions?

When I asked for suggestions on how this issue can be dealt better, people were quite ambivalent. The complexity of these situations is multi-fold. Organisations believe they can’t act till somebody files a complaint. Mostly the situations present themselves as “one vs the other”. Many of these incidents happen outside the office premises and there is no material evidence. A CIBIL like a score for these offenders should be brought in as this trait does show repeatability. These behaviours definitely deserve to be shamed. Education on acceptable behaviour, training of senior executives, employees on what constitutes a transgression can be done for prevention. Today I am debating on the corrective side of advances by people in power!

If power creates sexual harassment it’s important to shame the ‘power’ in order for your brand to gain long-term credibility. After all one person’s behaviour however senior cannot be larger than your brand!

I wrote this with the hope that the world around  #MyTwo gets better.

The edited version of this post this first appeared in Hindu Business Line

Please read my blog on how and where it can start…

When somebody calls you Pretty Face, how do you react?


Culture at StartUps, Founders Bane?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

What’s your imagination of startups & their Culture?

A couple of orange green bean bags as work stations, smiling faces posing with Coffee Mugs on Social Media, Overenthusiastic Founders in Jeans, High Five High decibel all around, Well-lit open office spaces, A touchy story as to why the founders started the venture Or Few friends working out of their apartment with their old laptops, asking friends and families to fund them. They might be waiting for their customers to give meetings or praying for their first/next paying customer or frustrated convincing their aspirant employees that they are the next big thing.

Startups Romanticism

I know it could be neither of them and there are many other narratives that can be added. Also, there could be such unique situations that I might never be able to articulate all. We describe startups in many ways, for now, we are used to colouring them only with their valuation success. If we are kinder we might say it’s a great idea, if our biases match we might say, great Founders. More often our impression of any start-up is based on their context than what they are up to. Culture is a key description when we talk about startups. We describe startups culture as cool, open, disruptive, inspirational, grinding, hustling etc. depending on how we see them!

So, who is responsible for culture in any startup and how does it get created? The default description is that Founders set the foundation for the culture. Can’t Agree more, but every employee adds up to it thereafter. What the founders do’ the first 2-3 joiners will follow. The first few employees’ behaviours are followed by the next entrants. It is Brick by brick in that sense. Let’s say the Founders get busy to get their business model right in the initial phase. In this period if they add 50 odd employees the culture possibly could have already got set-in without anybody’s notice. Unless somebody is paying attention, the culture would get its identity as a combination of its first few employees behaviour.

In startups, we do tend to attract our ex-colleagues first. So, cloning the culture of our past common employers unknowingly is an unwanted possibility.


Another dimension is that of diversity. Imagine a start-up of 10 people which has employees from 10 employers. they are likely to bring the baggage of these 10 companies. Yes, they would have joined for the Founder’s pitch and vision. But, their default behaviour would come from their past employers. Would it be important for Founders to state how things are supposed to be from day one?

The last time I worked in a startup we had few employees who had joined from large companies. The first few employees took the liberty of arriving to work at the time of their choice. They worked from anywhere, fixed office timings, no late calls, ‘can I see the holiday list first’ kind of behaviours. The Founders had the view that empowerment was the priority and some of the given norms at work shouldn’t be overstated. The next set of joinees who watched the first set of employees felt it was a laid-back organisation. They complained that they missed the startup hustle plus excitement they had joined for.

Questions to Founders

One of the challenges for Founders would be to go beyond the theme of “leading by example”. Some queries here

  • Sometimes expecting others to emulate Founders behaviour may not be enough?
  • Should you be discussing the right set of behaviours for an aspirational culture with every new employee? The answer is obvious!
  • Should you be articulating or calling out for expected behaviours very early in the organisation evolution?
  • Considering that every Founder looks for some common trait when they hire their teams. If they aren’t able to find the same traits after people join should they take calls on those people early?

Founder’s priorities in the initial days would be related to survival. They would be chasing the right revenue model, getting to breakeven, access to funding to state a few. It’s likely that they may postpone some of the behavioural traits which could be building up at the backdrop.

Our Startup

I remember once having a discussion with our team on the organisational culture we would be proud of. We had some intellectual inspiring discussions and appeared that we all had noble intentions around It. Then we asked how many of us took time to meet the latest colleagues in payroll and Finance. There was a spectacular silence. Our workshop on culture had notes/slides about how relationships and respect for each other mattered. However, we couldn’t bring it to our behaviours on a daily basis, we had to highlight this as a reminder. I guess the Founders have to keep looking for these gaps and address it frequently when the team is small.

First of all, It’s obvious that Founders have no choice but set the foundation on Culture. Also, they must bring in a few flag bearers who will live by the vision set by Founders. This is a difficult balance but should be tried.
If you hire people from large organisations you have to keep in mind a few things. The culture there is likely to be owned through PPTs, large posters and maybe through CEOs or HR Departments.

Hence, it would be difficult to make them adapt to the startup ecosystem overnight where every behaviour creates ‘culture’ brick by brick.

Right now I am busy fine-tuning some of them!