Building a Safe, Inclusive Culture and a Diverse Workplace: Part I

This is the 1st of a 2-part blog series on building culture and fostering diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Before we talk of what sets apart culture of one firm from another, the first box to be ticked is the safety and protection of all employees

Sexual harassment at the workplace is almost as old as time. Specific to India, relatively recent government policy (2013) plus lax law enforcement meant historically most people turned a blind eye or even lived in denial about such issues. The TVF storm earlier this year changed all that

​Well before the ​controversies made headlines, Blume ​had been working on initiatives to help bring standardization and best practices across the portfolio. We started last November with the release of​ an HR Policy Template, meant to help young companies struggling in the absence of a formal HR function/resource. Thereafter​, we recognized that a lot of companies​ would require assistance to fully understand and become compliant with th​e Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act. Since March, we’ve been engaging with several entities to identify partners who could ensure POSH-compliance end to end, at scale, and provide a host of allied services for fast growing companies. A stream of negative news surrounding Uber, TVF, Seedfund, 500 Startups, etc just added ​impetus to our efforts. Sharing here the summary of our learning curve along the way

Apart from the legal requirements, here are 3 good reasons why everyone should be POSH compliant:

  1. Avoid getting your startup/brand bad publicity/fines levied/handle messy escalations that can follow escalations of an untoward incident

  2. Best to not be in an adverse situation at a critical juncture for your company (eg fundraising, major PR initiatives etc) that can stall crucial efforts

  3. Protect your employees (both by way of having a committee in place as well as by the deterring signalling effect of being compliant)

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What is POSH?

The “Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)”​ or POSH Act was made effective from December 2013 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development with the objective of preventing and protecting women against sexual harassment at the workplace and for the effective redressal of complaints of sexual harassment

Who needs to be complaint?

The law is applicable to all organisations employing more than 10 employees including full-time, part-time, trainees, consultants, interns, contractors and outsourced staff, even if there are no female employees

What is the liability/ penalty is I am NOT compliant?

Companies that do not comply with the law are liable to a penalty ranging from Rs.50,000/- to cancellation of business licences or withdrawal, non-renewal or cancellation of registration

What all is mandatory for compliance?

  1. Formulate a Prevention of Sexual Harassment company policy (and updation when there are amendments to the law)

  2. Appoint an Internal Compliance Committee (ICC) of 3-4 members with at least 50% women and an external member (this acts like a quasi-judicial body)

  3. Display policy/ contact details of all ICC members prominently in the office (so the complainant can reach out to whoever they like)

  4. Provide awareness training and explain the law to ALL employees on what constitutes sexual harassment and forms of redressal (to educate and empower each one)

  5. Train ICC members to handle an incident and inquiries with sensitivity, abiding by the guidelines (members need to know their functions, responsibilities, and how conduct an inquiry into a complaint)

  6. Submit a report to the deputy commissioner every calendar year (customary annual paperwork)

  7. Conduct inquiries via the ICC with requisite documentation within statutory timelines (when a complaint is raised)

OK, so what do I need to do (as a founder)​?

Given all of the above, the best solution is for startups to empanel an entity with necessary expertise (via an annual retainer) who can provide turnkey solutions to ensure all aspects are fully covered. Blume has partnerships in place for our portcos in both BOM and BLR – if you want to learn more or sign up, just give us a shout​. I​t would be fitting to highlight that we deem it imperative for ALL FOUNDERS to attend the employee sensitization and ICC training sessions so as to educate themselves with the latest as well as to signal to their teams that they are serious about employee welfare

Up next, we plan to engage with our founders and learn how they are building their cultures and workplaces, to take best practices from our companies and share with one another – all to enable creation of an ecosystem that others can truly look up to.

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