Serein

The “Sexual” in Sexual Harassment

Sharanya Venkataraghavan

- June 26, 2024

Gia recently joined Delta Enterprises, as the only woman in the Tech team. Her co-worker, Charles constantly made remarks about how “women just aren’t as good at tech” and “it’ll be just a few months of dealing with her before she gets married and quits”. 

Gia is uncomfortable with the constant sexist comments and conversations about her personal life. 

Can this be classified as sexual harassment?

What is sexual harassment?

The Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“PoSH Act”) defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome, sexually-tinted behaviour, whether directly or by implication, such as:

  • Physical contact and advances,
  • Demand or request for sexual favours,
  • Making sexually coloured remarks,
  • Showing pornography, or
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

The definition of sexual harassment is broad and covers various inappropriate behaviours and places reliance on how the person who faced the behaviour felt. 

Does sexual harassment have to be “sexual”?

The long-standing understanding of sexual harassment is that it is a manifestation of “sexual desire”. This meant that people sexually harassed others because they had some form of sexual desire or attraction towards them. However, the PoSH Act 2013’s definition of sexual harassment and the Court’s interpretation have pushed the boundaries of what is sexual harassment in the workplace. 

 The focus of the definition itself is not to limit itself to only explicit sexual behaviour but also behaviour with sexual undertones- which are commonly perpetrated through comments, innuendos and jokes. Affirming this, the Kerala High Court clarified that any form of sexual approach or behaviour that is unwelcome and has a sexual undertone will come under the definition of sexual harassment under the PoSH Act.

The view of sexual harassment has also taken into consideration the impact that sexual harassment can have on the workplace and the complainant’s experience in the workplace. The Bombay High Court emphasised that sexual harassment includes behaviour that creates an intimidating or hostile environment for the complainant and leads to humiliating treatment likely to affect their health and safety, placing focus on how sexual harassment can impact the experience of the complainant at work.  

Sexual harassment laws in India evolved from the idea that it violated the very right to life and to live with dignity. Keeping this view in mind, the Supreme Court in a judgement under the Vishaka Guidelines stated that sexual harassment at the workplace is not confined to cases of actual commission of acts of harassment but also situations where employee faces prejudice, hostility, discriminatory attitudes and humiliation in their day-to-day functioning in the workplace. 

What is the implication of this interpretation?

Through the definitions and judgements, we can see that the interpretation of sexual harassment does not only cover behaviour that is explicitly sexual or hinges on the idea of expression of a form of sexual desire. Sexual harassment in the workplace is rather, a very diverse experience that is humiliating and creates a hostile work environment, that can be exacerbated by power dynamics. 

Going back to Charles and Gia, Charles’ comments about how “it’ll be just a few months of dealing with her before she gets married and quits” and “women aren’t as good at tech” can make Gia feel very uncomfortable and unsafe in the workplace. These comments reinforce notions and stereotypes about women in the workplace but the first comment also talks about Gia’s personal life, which is not appropriate for the workplace. The conversation veers into talking about Gia’s personal life, and her marriage, which are not appropriate conversations for the workplace. 

Women often face questions and comments about their marriage, children and personal life, a behaviour that is largely normalised in society but it does have a very real impact on people in the workplace. These comments create a hostile work environment for complainants in the workplace, where they feel unwelcome and humiliated, which various Courts have established as a form of sexual harassment. 

Broadening the idea of sexual harassment beyond sexual desire and only explicitly sexual behaviour allows for the law to cover various forms of sexual harassment that create an uncomfortable, unsafe and hostile work environment and work towards creating a healthy work culture more holistically. 

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Elina Tiliba

Workshops Facilitator

Elina is a certified coach who works with leaders, entrepreneurs and business teams from over 30 countries. At Serein, she facilitates sensitisation sessions for clients across the globe.

Her passion lies in empowering individuals to maximise their personal and professional potential, enabling them to achieve both success and fulfilment.

With a commitment to the International Coaching Federation’s (ICF) Coaching Core Competencies and Code of Ethics, Elina brings over 1000 hours of individual coaching and 400 hours of team facilitation, workshops, and coaching groups to her coaching practice. 

Rishab Prasad

DEI Specialist

Rishab is passionate about creating long-term partnerships with Serein’s customers. He is responsible for marketing, operations, customer onboarding, contract writing, and relationship building. Rishab uses his directing and filmmaking skills to design engaging content for Serein’s social media platforms.

Rishab holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics with Honours from CHRIST University, Bangalore. He has directed more than nine short films on topics like stigmas of menstruation, widowhood, and adoption.

Dr. Ishani Roy

Founder and CEO

Ishani founded Serein to provide a data and research-based approach to solving DEI challenges at the workplace. She advises company leaders, startup founders, and venture capital firms on industry best practices to increase diversity and design a DEI roadmap.

Ishani is a recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award 2023 for the global impact of her work in the DEI space.

Before founding Serein, Ishani was a scientist at GE Research working in the Aerospace Lab. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Brown University on developing mathematical models to solve Astrophysics problems. She did her Post-doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and St. Thomas Hospital in Biomathematics.

Chryslynn D’Costa

Co-founder and CPO |

Chryslynn leads the product development of Serein’s DEI SaaS tool. She designs learning content and strategic insights for companies to measure their DEI growth, and achieve bias-free recruitment and psychological safety.

Chryslynn is a regular columnist with publications like ‘LiveMint’ and ‘The Hindu’ where she writes about unconscious bias, prevention of sexual harassment, and company culture.

Before Serein, she was a Gandhi Fellow working in rural Rajasthan to address educational leadership and gender equity in government schools. She graduated from Azim Premji University in Bangalore with a Master’s in Education where she specialised in gender and sexuality education.

Bianca D’Costa

Head of PoSH: India, Global

Bianca leads the compliance partnerships and workshops on anti-sexual harassment, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. She has 100+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace.

Bianca designs gamified learning modules for a unique and impactful learner experience on topics like gender inclusion, PwD inclusion, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and regional inclusion among others. 

Before Serein, Bianca worked in hospitality for 5 years with Emirates Airlines. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai. She is presently pursuing a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality in Global Politics from SOAS University of London.

Aparna Pandurangan

Head of Operations

Aparna is leading the finance and operations at Serein. She has also been responsible for Serein’s online platform, customer management, and marketing.

She works closely with Serein’s 500+ long-term partners to ensure they are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law. Aparna is a workshop facilitator on topics like the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace in languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.

Aparna Pandurangan holds a degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Anna University, Chennai. 

Faakirah Irfan

Head of Legal

Faakirah is a legal professional and expert facilitator on topics like anti-sexual harassment, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. Faakirah has conducted 100+ training sessions on the prevention of sexual harassment for employees and internal committee members.

She has 150+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace. Her legal research at Serein includes policy analysis, human rights, women’s rights, and document drafting.

Faakirah is an experienced legal professional. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in law with a focus on women’s rights and policy analysis from the University of Kashmir. She holds a Master of Law degree specializing in alternative dispute resolution from O.P Jindal School of Law.

Dr. Ruchika Sharma

Guest Consultant: Gender

Ruchika assists with research and facilitation of sessions on domestic violence, sexual harassment, employee well-being, and women’s leadership. She is a feature writer for Serein’s blogs where she writes about gender, women’s history, domestic violence, and sexual harassment awareness in the workplace.

Ruchika is a published author with books like ‘Concubinage, Race and Law in Early Colonial Bengal: Bequeathing Intimacy, Servicing the Empire’ published by Routledge, Taylor, and Francis publications. She has been teaching History at the University of Delhi for over a decade. She has a Ph.D. in History from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Arathi Kannan

Head of DEI: India, Global

Arathi leads the design and execution of DEI measurement tools for global partners. These include Serein’s Diversity Index, the scope of unconscious bias in recruitment and promotions, and the scope of unconscious bias in external messaging. 

She has also designed a standardized tool to review company policies and products through an inclusion lens. Arathi leads workshops on inclusion, unconscious bias, domestic violence, mental health, and well-being. 

Arathi is a published researcher with Master’s degrees in Applied Psychology and Criminology from Bond University, Australia. Her experience includes working with people from different backgrounds, including refugee groups.

Thejaswini CA

LMS Platform Associate

Thejaswini is responsible for the operations and maintenance of Serein’s in-house e-learning platform. She assists customers to deliver learning content and assess employee engagement through Serein’s tracking system. 

Thejaswini is also engaged with finance and other operations to ensure Serein’s 500+ long-term partners are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law.

Thejaswini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Application from Field Marshal KM Cariappa College, Kodagu.

Rhea D’Silva

Designer

Rhea is the aesthetic and creative eye behind Serein’s marketing and sales collateral. She manages website content and social media content calendar. She works closely with Serein’s content experts to design catchy invites, toolkits, and company culture reports.

Rhea creates animated content for Serein’s learning platform. She is focused on understanding the user’s need for engagement and learning to create impactful content. 

Rhea holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai where she majored in advertising.

Bhavini Pant

Safety and PoSH expert

Bhavini serves as a PoSH external member for 30+ companies in industries like education, healthcare, IT, Pharma, and more. She has 70+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace and supporting partner organizations on the legal procedure and best practices for workplace safety.

Before Serein, Bhavini worked as an archivist at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and as an editorial assistant for IIT Bombay’s PR and Alumni Associations department.

She has a Master’s degree in Education from Azim Premji University where she worked extensively with the management on anti-sexual harassment legal implementation. Her work involved the interpretation of the law in a university as a workplace and an educational institution for adults. 

Kirtika N

Safety and PoSH expert

Kirtika is a Senior Gender and Safety Specialist. At Serein, she leverages her expertise to design engaging and informative content for multiple services including our flagship workshops. Kirtika also facilitates workshop on topics like sexual harassment awareness, psychological safety, workplace inclusion, mcroaggressions, allyship, and more. 

Kirtika also serves as a PoSH external member and has 50+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations at the workplace and supporting partner organisations on legal procedures and best practices.

She has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Montfort College, Bengaluru, and has experience working as a Therapist with agencies and schools.
 

Narayanan Nagarajan

Creative Designer Consultant

Narayanan is responsible for creating visuals for posts and campaigns for social media as a Creative Designer at Serein. He also works on animations for Serein’s e-learning courses, explainer and promotional videos. 

Narayanan’s focus lies in creating content that is subtle yet impactful. He sometimes doesn’t mind being in the middle of a storm but does love a good brainstorm. 

Narayanan worked in a corporate environment for 7 years before making a creative switch in his career. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from The College of Fine Arts, Bengaluru.

Sharanya Venkataraghavan

Safety and PoSH expert

Sharanya serves as a PoSH external member for 15+ companies in e-commerce, fintech, healthcare, SaaS, and more. She supports partner organisations on legal procedures and best practices to build safe work cultures.

She has been involved in the review of PoSH policies, labour law compliances, and research regarding the risk of secondary victimisation of complainants under the PoSH Act.

Sharanya graduated with BBA, LLB (Hons.) degree from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She has experience in PoSH and employment law with notable law firms like Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co., J. Sagar and Associates, among others.

Nandini Abraham

Statistical Analyst

Nandini conducts extensive industry-specific research on DEI trends in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. Nandini is responsible for developing statistical models for DEI assessment on Serein’s DEI SaaS Tool. She designs measurement tools for DEI benchmarking, inclusion assessments, and employee experience surveys.

Nandini is passionate about creating engaging and impactful reports, toolkits, and playbooks for Serein’s customers.

Nandini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Mathematics & Statistics from St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

Nithya R

HR and Compliance Lead

Nithya drives operational excellence within the HR function. She ensures that Serein maintains the highest standards of HR practices and ethical conduct. Her role extends beyond traditional HR responsibilities as she also serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients, specialising in preventing workplace harassment through the PoSH vertical.

Nithya has graduated in Commerce from the University of Lucknow and has rich experience in hiring and retaining the best talents in the industry with companies like BukuWarung and Belong.co.

Sri Padmavathi C

Finance Consultant

LinkedIn

Sri Padmavathi C specialises in providing accounting consulting services to companies. She helps in assisting & maintaining Serein’s Books of Accounts, GST, TDS, PT filing, financial statements preparation & audit review.
 
She holds an MBA with Finance Specialisation from Annamalai University, and has also has done CA articleship under CA Tom Joseph’s guidance.

Anisha Debnath

PoSH and DEI Workshops Facilitator

As a PoSH and DEI Workshops Facilitator, Anisha is primarily responsible for conducting sessions and facilitating conversations that enable building of safe and inclusive workplaces for all. Anisha also undertakes in-depth research into various Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues that plague our work cultures today. All of this research goes into designing bespoke sessions and curating interactive learning experiences for several of Serein’s partners. 

Anisha has a background in History, especially in the history of gender and early feminism in colonial South Asia. 

Anisha has a Bachelor’s degree in History (Hons.) from Gargi College, University of Delhi. She has also studied for an MPhil in World History from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Aseem Deuskar

Inclusive Workspace Architect

LinkedIn

Aseem is an Inclusive Workspace Architect dedicated to reshaping workplace diversity and accessibility. He is skilled in conducting comprehensive accessibility audits and implementing inclusive design solutions.


Aseem is passionate about creating environments that foster equal opportunities

He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning.

 

Siri Prasad

Safety and PoSH Expert

Siri Prasad is a Safety and PoSH Expert at Serein and serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients. Her work is not limited to, but includes advising in legal procedures, best practices for safe work cultures, and reviewing of PoSH policies and labor law compliance.

Siri is a Gold Medallist and holds a BBA, LLB (Hons.) from Christ University and a Masters in Science (International Employment Relations) from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she also served as the EDI Officer.

Abhishek Ghattamaneni

Head of Financial Strategies

Abhishek heads Financial Strategies at Serein. He is responsible for overseeing finance, Corporate Secretarial (CS) related work, and compliance among other things. He is a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience in finance and corporate governance. With over 15 years of expertise as a qualified Company Secretary, he has made significant contributions to the finance departments of companies within the real estate and startup sectors.

Having worked with organisations operating across multiple countries, Abhishek brings a deep understanding of international taxation to the table. Notably, he achieved an impressive 42nd rank in 12th grade under the AP Education Board, demonstrating a strong academic foundation to complement his professional achievements.

Kaushik Mazumdar

Engineering and Platform Consultant

Kaushik has 14+ years of experience across IoT, Systems, Gaming, and Telecom, building high volume production applications and products with worldwide presence.

He looks after the technology and education segment of Krishworks, and has built Ed-Tech products to improve English Literacy in rural areas of India with QR coded books, Smart Classrooms, Teacher Trainings and increased involvement of parents.

Kaushik holds a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. He mentors a young and dynamic team aligned to the vision of Krishworks. Outside of work, he is a fitness and technology enthusiast, and loves running and swimming.

Balaji P

Design Consultant

Balaji has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from PSV Engineering College and has practised UX design at Growth School in Bangalore.

As an associate UX/UI designer at Krishworks, Balaji is responsible for collecting client requirements and converting them into usable digital products using UX principles. He also helps in maintaining brand identity and aesthetics in the products by creating UI design systems and high-fidelity screens. For Serein, Balaji has designed the PoSH LMS Product and the website.

Subhajit Roy

Engineering and Platform Consultant

Subhajit is the Co-Founder of Krishworks Technology and Research Labs Pvt Ltd. He is a social entrepreneur who uses technology to promote rural literacy and upskill rural teachers. 

At Serein, Subhajit and his team has helped develop the e-learning platform and DEI SaaS Tool. He also oversees its maintenance and development.  

He is an incubatee at IIM Calcutta Innovation Park and an alumni of ISB Dlabs. Along with his co-founders, he is recognised with the Leaders of Tomorrow Award by Times Now. During the early days of his career, he worked as an Embedded System Designer, and was involved in various projects related to National Defence (DRDO) and health care research. Some of the products designed by him have been used by Apollo Hospitals, Govt of India, got patented and also received FDA approval.

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