#MeToo: The economic cost of harassment is huge

Sexual harassment is preventing half our population from achieving their aspirations. It’s an economic cost for the country if we can’t let our women prosper.

#MeToo: The economic cost of  harassment is huge

Abhijit Roy

Exploitation or harassment of women would not stop as long as we have more men in power in decision-making positions. From the corporate world to media & entertainment, this has been going on for ages.

The academic world, especially in the field of research, is another place where such harassments are continuing but seldom exposed as we tend to think that those in the rarefied areas of education would be beyond all these.

Sexual harassment by teachers in colleges, in research organisations are common knowledge. Careers of students and researchers are often held to ransom by sexual predators. There's no mechanism for women to be heard. Sexual harassment is preventing half our population from achieving their aspirations. It's an economic cost for the country if we can't let our women prosper. This is costing true merit their due. The country is being denied their talent as women drop out of their careers or their merit disregarded.

It is common sense that if we get more talented women into the workforce, we will see a higher GDP by at least 2% and to do that, we need to make our workplaces free from sexual harassment, gender discrimination.

Despite the financial and reputational cost to companies of high-profile payouts – such as the $45 million that 21st Century Fox paid in the first quarter of 2017 to settle allegations of sexual harassment – executives seem unaware of the scale of the problem, or choose to ignore it

While employers tend to focus on direct costs to a business, such as legal fees or settlement amounts, the true cost of sexual harassment includes indirect costs such as decreased productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm. A top notch Indian IT services company, the icon of the industry, paid millions of dollars in settlement when its CEO was involved in a sexual harassment case. The gentleman turned out to be a repeat offender when he was sacked by the company he founded after quitting his job in the earlier company.

Last year, Travis Kalanick, Uber’s former chief executive, was forced out of that role following an investigation into a corporate culture that had ignored complaints about sexual discrimination and harassment, though Kalanick still remains on the board. Despite the financial and reputational cost to companies of high-profile payouts – such as the $45 million that 21st Century Fox paid in the first quarter of 2017 to settle allegations of sexual harassment – executives seem unaware of the scale of the problem, or choose to ignore it. It’s time we measured the economic cost of this growing problem and perhaps then we will see the management sit up and take notice of what’s happening under their watch.

(The writer is a Kolkata-based commentator)

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