Of sexual harassment, reputation and remedial action

By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, May 30 (IANS)
It is sexual harassment complaint season here shredding the reputation of organisations and individuals.
Communication strategists and experts are of the view that one sexual harassment complaint is enough to bring down to dust an organisation/individual reputation built over decades.
They also said it is the top management’s task to fight the damage and then repair it.
Messages on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, email will be exchanged between thousands of people and read by lakhs thereby damaging an organisation/individual reputation.
The cases currently in point are the reputation of city based famous institutions — Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan (PSBB), Maharishi Vidya Mandir Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Loyola College- and also that of Tamil movie lyricist Vairamuthu.
On the corporate side, the most famous case was the Infosys sexual harassment episode that blew up in 2002.
“Reputation is built brick by brick and can’t be bought and built like a product brand, image and perception,” Harish Bijoor, brand expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, told IANS.
“Reputation is actually an organisation’s responsibility towards its stakeholders and it cannot be shaped by communication. A product is sold, a brand is bought and shaped by communication differentiation. A brand’s image and perception can be controlled,” a communication strategist told IANS preferring anonymity.
Experts to whom IANS spoke were unanimous on the do’s and dont’s for organisations hit with sexual harassment complaint.
“Own it up first and explain the steps taken on the complaint. Anything less than this will backfire,” Sleeba Varghese, Creative Director, S Factor based in Ernakulam in Kerala and into image management and others.
A communication strategist said PSBB bungled in its communication strategy relating to the sexual harassment complaint by not admitting it initially.
The issue recently blew up with social media posts by school students and alumni alleging a commerce teacher harassing students and inappropriate behaviour.
The school management had said it is taking suo moto notice of the allegations and will take necessary steps to address the situation in a free, fair and transparent manner.
Assuring the parents of its students, the school said it has zero tolerance towards any behaviour that adversely affects the physical, emotional and psychological well being of the students.
The school management also said these allegations were not brought to its notice earlier.
Two DMK party MPs-Dayanidhi Maran and Kanimozhi- had tweeted on the issue demanding a probe and making the school management accountable.
Meanwhile the issue got a lot of traction in the social media and there were posts about the caste, religion of the school promoters.
Reacting to such posts a Y.G. Madhuvanthi- daughter of actor Y.G. Mahendran a PSBB trustee- in a video said caste/religion colour is being given about the school which should not be done.
This in turn took the social media discussions on Aryan versus Dravidian and others.
“As a member of the PSBB promoter family, Madhuvanthi who is also the state executive member of BJP shouldn’t have got herself involved in the debate. Social media will discuss many things and she shouldn’t have joined the issue. This added fuel to the fire,” a communication strategist said.
“The communication from the sexual harassment hit organisation should be focussed on the issue on hand and its resolution process,” he added.
According to him, the top head of the PSBB management should have come out with a statement on the action taken on the complaint which in the long run would save the institution.
On the other hand, facing a similar situation, the Maharishi Vidya Mandir school issued a statement referring to the complaints against its commerce teacher and said he has been suspended and an inquiry has been instituted.
Experts also said if the sexual harassment complaint against an organisation/individual is overlooked initially, it would bite at a crucial moment and cite lyricist Vairamuthu’s example.
Seventeen women had complained against Vairamuthu for sexual harassment in 2018 in the Me Too movement. But no action was taken against him then.
But the issue bit him now.
Vairamuthu on Saturday announced his decision to decline the ONV Kurup literary award after learning that the ONV Cultural Academy would be taking a relook on the award to him in the wake of sexual harassment complaints against him.
The announcement of award for Vairamuthu recently resulted in a controversy with many noted personalities opposing it citing that he is accused of sexual harassment.
The other sexual harassment complaint against a famous educational institution was against the famous Loyola College.
Last year The Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women ordered Chennai’s Loyola College to pay Rs 64,30,000 to a former staffer towards damages for sexual harassment, mental agony and in back wages.
The Loyola management declined to respond to the media citing the matter as subjudice.
In 2002 faced with sexual harassment court case against its senior official Phaneesh Murthy, Infosys initially was not forthcoming.
But later Infosys set the record straight by answering queries from an online business magazine www.domainb.com.
Speaking IANS on the condition of anonymity told IANS: “After the sexual harassment complaint against then senior official Phaneesh Murthy, the company brought in the whistle blower policy.” (Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

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