I recently came across this press release we did back in early 2014, which is not anywhere on our website anymore. This tells the story of Cloudtrain.in and End Sexual Harassment project really well. I thought it will be a great idea to share it with all of you here, since it is such great and relevant content anyway.
Pallavi Pareek had worked for several management consultancies before turning to entrepreneurship. Her profile in the past required her to regularly pitch to top businessmen for acquiring new business, which meant meeting them alone over coffee or dinner. Not all of her prospects were strictly professional in their conduct – every once in a while one of them will express romantic interests hinting towards sexual favours. For instance, a business meeting with the Country HR Head of a big MNC turned into an inappropriate proposition for a long drive to Lonavala to “discuss business”. The deal fell through when Pallavi refused. She was not alone, even her colleagues and peers in the industry often shared such anecdotes in confidence. Naturally, when the new sexual harassment law was finally passed by the Parliament, she hoped that it will go a long way in preventing such incidences.
By 2013, when the law was passed, Pallavi had already co-founded iPleaders, a startup that helps premier Indian Universities to build cloud technology based courses that were being accessed by thousands of students in more than 10 countries. When news of sexual harassment at law universities, news magazines and even the Supreme Court started coming out in the media, she decided to explore if something could be done to tackle sexual harassment using cloud based education technology. Once she started speaking to her former colleagues and associates from the HR and corporate training industry, they started sharing the difficulties corporate India faced in implementing the new law that aims to tackle sexual harassment at workplace.
The revelations were startling to say the least. Most HR professionals said that training the entire workforce about sexual harassment, which is a compliance requirement under the law, was both challenging and costly – as there are very few experts to be found without paying a premium, who have to be flown around the country if there are offices outside big metros. Apart from training the employees, every business needs to set up an internal complaints committee and train the members in handling complaints, effectively conducting hearing and various legal implications. Most organisations are confused about how to properly implement the new law without upsetting gender neutrality of the work place as the law gives protection only to women. Failure in effective implementation means the businesses potentially opened themselves to liability and public humiliation – as observed in a few cases that got media attention last year.
Most HR experts agree that effective and continuous training is the best way to reduce possibility of sexual harassment, and it reduces liability and damage on part of the employer in case sexual harassment actually takes place. A recent study by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology has proven that incidence of sexual harassment goes down dramatically when employees are exposed to regular training programs.
However, the difficulties faced in anti-sexual harassment training are several. Cost involved in conducting live in-person training across several branches and locations all over India can be prohibitive for most businesses, and management is often unwilling to commit too much resources to a training which they see as a mere compliance requirement. Conducting these live trainings more than once or twice a year is impractical, but temporary staff and new employees who join in between remain untrained. Language barriers, the lack of India specific literature and assessment scheme were also a problem. Also, many employees tend to be inattentive during sessions or miss them altogether as they do not see correlation with performance or incentives. When employees actually face a situation where they need this knowledge, they do not have any expert to turn to short of going to a lawyer.
Clearly, there was a void to be filled. However, the solution had to come in the form of a comprehensive training program which reduces costs of continuous training. This is where cloud-based education technology held a lot of promise. The iPleaders team approached several experts like Ranjana Kaul, former member of Delhi Commission for Women, Mrinal Satish, a professor at National Law University Delhi who took part in drafting the law and other practicing lawyer and HR professionals, who helped them to build a cloud-based Anti-Sexual Harassment Toolkit, which included training as well as a compliance module. This was launched in the form of the “End Sexual Harassment” campaign in November 2013, and made accessible for free to anyone who would like to learn.
Another person who was instrumental in building this product for a corporate environment was Alok Kejriwal, the CEO and co-founder of a well-known gaming startup Games2Win. Kejriwal, who has been an informal mentor to many entrepreneurs including a co-founder of iPleaders, was looking for a solution to implement the law in his organization. Not only Kejriwal provided insights that enabled the product to be industry friendly, he also implemented the toolbox at Games2Win as an early adopter of the concept. In his own words, “startups like ours always need ready-to-plug services that are not our core competence. Preserving the dignity, safety and status of women at 2win is a top HR priority and hence we found the product offered by iPleaders just perfect.”
This was followed by series of B2B sales to Samsung, Feedback Infra and various other organizations. The deployment at Feedback Infra was particularly challenging, as the training tool had to be deployed at 40 locations all over India, for thousands of employees from multiple linguistic backgrounds. Collaborations with and endorsement from industry bodies like the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and NASSCOM followed soon. CII has implemented the toolkit to ensure that it is internally compliant with the law. “The toolbox is timely and the templates provided in the toolbox are quite simple and easy to comprehend. CII is recommending this unique tool to its member companies. We are also encouraging our employees to gain understanding from the platform,” says Shefali Chaturvedi, Senior Director of CII, who is also the CEO of the CII Foundation and head of their Women Empowerment Division.
In its current form, the iPleaders Anti-Sexual Harassment Cloud-Comply Toolkit is a one-stop solution to problems when it comes to training employees in prevention of sexual harassment and corporate compliance under the new law. It provides a way to conduct high quality continuous training on sexual harassment through pre-developed training modules at a fraction of the cost of live training. Employees get continuous access to the toolkit on smartphones and computer and have to clear an assessment test which establishes if they have learned sufficiently. The Toolkit is available in both English and also vernacular languages on demand, bridging the language gap in most Indian companies.
This initiative by iPleaders has received validation from industry experts. “High quality corporate training accompanied with the appropriate legal expertise is hard to come by. iPleaders has consulted the right legal, HR and management experts while managing a great job with technology, aesthetics, content and assessment. Simplicity, ease of use and effectiveness of the training toolkit is ground-breaking,” says Siboney Sagar, former General Counsel of British Telecom and General Electric.
“I advised them to create vernacular versions of the training – and I must say they have done a great job with the Hindi version,” says Ranjana Kaul, former member of the Delhi Women’s Commission, who is currently a partner at law firm Dua Associates.
This seems to be just the beginning of what promises to be a daunting task of making the working population of India sensitive to women’s issues. As Pallavi says “Working women in India already face big challenges at home and at work. Sexual harassment should not be one of those challenges. I feel that in some way I have contributed to reducing that burden.” “Good training also help men to know what is acceptable at workplace and what is not – so it helps men as well” adds Abhyudaya, Pallavi’s co-founder. iPleaders is now working with several MNCs to build cloud based training on subjects like whistle blower policy and anti-bribery compliance, and opportunities seem to be endless.
Another great initiative by iPleaders is to launch a course aimed at equipping individuals with thorough knowledge of sexual harassment prevention which can, in turn, help various HRs and trainers to train the entire workforce by themselves. The course can be found here. A major hurdle for a lot of companies is that they although are aware of POSH act, they do not know how to implement it. For this purpose, one can also opt for this course to ensure that sexual harassment prevention laws are properly implemented in their company.