While the nation mourns and comes to terms with the loss of an aspiring medical student to a brutal sexual assault there are many questions left unanswered. What will it take to heal a nation and leaders to confront reality? Will there be a time when women will be treated on par and be safe from crime? We may not have the answers just yet.
However there are lessons leaders and organizations can take away from this case to appreciate human dignity, improve their internal communications and be more sensitive to women staffers.
What made this episode galvanize the masses? Would this incident have got the attention it needed had media not followed the case closely? How can organizations be sensitive to the needs of their stakeholders? Is there a better way to handle communication related to such scenarios?
When one reflects on the timeline of the incident it isn’t surprising that peoples’ anger overflowed. The unprecedented wave of anguish that Nirbhaya (Hindi for Braveheart) received from across the country and outside resulted in knee jerk reactions that had people unconvinced. People took to the streets and created online petitions to impress upon the government to take drastic measures.
The government and the police tried their best within the limited time and space available by nabbing the culprits, reaching out to people for their opinions for an upcoming change in criminal laws and setting up fast track courts to try such crimes. News that the police had been slow to react and that there were quibbles over ‘control’ of the case also perturbed people.
The brutality of the crime, the courage of the woman to fight back her assaulters and her will to stay alive made this a case like no other. The victim died on December 29 and people from all walks of life paid tribute to the brave woman.
People were miffed by a late acknowledgement of a crisis on hand and casual remarks by leaders only aggravated the situation. The Prime Minister’s scripted message to the nation and appeal for calm felt weak as a reaction for a crime as heinous as this. Adding more fuel to fire was the #Theek hai comment that got his speech to be an infamous social media viral message. A lack of co-ordination and communication caused more trouble with ministers going public with their opinions and individual state governments announcing their own ways to tackle crimes on women.
Take swift action. Sort out differences based on a shared purpose. Get ahead of the situation and have everyone on the same page before communicating with stakeholders.
The fact that the nation’s capital has an infamous reputation accentuated the fury among the masses and not for the first time did we see an explosion of rage. The trend is alarming and with justice taking a while there are concerns of vigilante justice taking over. At the same time people compared President Obama’s reaction and televised address on the Connecticut school shooting incident. Quite like the Jasmine revolution we are seeing a tectonic shift in how the youth of the nation can force the hand of authorities in power to bring about change in our social fabric. Leaders need to sit up and look within their organizations as employees will shape and reaffirm the culture inside. The high handed treatment of protesters furthered diminished the goodwill the government sought to garner and pushed them into a defensive position.
Acknowledge the issue, be sincere and demonstrate that you mean business. Involve stakeholders in the change process. Muzzling peoples’ voices can’t help in building trust.
The personal touches of leaders to send the woman for treatment abroad and to receive the body at the airport didn’t make the situation any better. The decision to move the victim abroad for treatment at such a critical juncture caused more resentment so also the decision to cremate the body hurriedly got people more suspicious of the government’s intentions. Finally, recommending that the girl’s name be disclosed and have the anti-rape laws be named after her seemed to deflect the attention from more pressing issues. In the nation’s consciousness this incident is top of mind and it doesn’t mean that issues such as corruption, declining ethics or other crimes have been erased from peoples’ memory.
People have long memories. Stick to the core issue. Stay honest with your actions and communicate often on progress and impact.
Many organizations and people were willing to contribute to the victim’s treatment and support her family. Organizations can do more than arrange for self-defense classes or send an armed escort along with women who take office transport while working late hours. The need for the hour is a change in attitude and the will to take firm action so that such acts of crime aren’t committed at all.
Focus on systemic changes rather than tactical measures. Gain the confidence of your staffers during the crisis.
Employees expect to be treated with dignity, know that they work for an organization which respects individuals and that the organization cares for their safety. It needs to start with the everyday language used by employees, especially managers while addressing their teams and not in tailored policies aimed at ranking among the best employer awards. Employers need to listen carefully for harassment and gender biases in the conversations their staffers. Phrases such as ‘hello guys’ while addressing an audience consisting of both genders sends a poor message and is proof that the culture within is eroding. Proactively break down stereotyping at the workplace – especially during job interviews the message that ‘women can’t work long hours’ or ‘women can’t add value’ doesn’t help to improve trust among potential employees.
The words we speak and the actions build strong and lasting cultures.