Shreya Ukil Vs. Wipro: Lessons In Workplace Gender Discrimination

by Sohini Bagchi    May 05, 2016

gender

Opinion appears to be divided on Wipro’s legal battle involving a senior lady executive’s charges on gender bias, victimization and unfair dismissal. While the India’s premier IT services company seems to think it has won the case, the petitioner believes otherwise.

A report published in the Economic Times (Full Article) quotes an email from the company to suggest that the “UK Employment Tribunal has upheld the dismissal of the complainant from the services of the organization as appropriate and rejected claims of adverse cultural attitude towards women in the organization.”

The article goes on to quote the email that waxes eloquent about Wipro’s standards on integrity, fairness and ethical corporate practices. However, another report published in the Huffington Post (Full Article) claims that the former employee Shreya Ukil had actually won the legal battle.

The publication quotes a statement from Ukil to suggest that the court had found Wipro guilty of unfairly dismissing their employee, direct gender discrimination and multiple instances of victimization. It further said that damages are yet to be decided. Ukil goes on to state that she hoped this judgment would make companies reconsider their treatment of lady staff is fair and equal.

Gender discrimination exists strongly!

While the jury might still be out in terms of who has actually won the legal battle, the fact that cannot be brushed aside is the existence of gender-based discrimination in India’s multi-billion dollar IT Services industry. And, the blame for this challenge has to be taken squarely by the management of these companies who have by and large left the question of women’s representation at the Board level unresolved. 

While one may still argue that there are a number of prominent names like Sheryl Sandberg, Marrisa Mayer, Meg Whitman and Padmasree Warrior in the IT industry, these numbers of relatively few in the larger male dominated IT world. According to recent figures from IT recruitment company Technojobs, women are far less well-represented than men in IT recruitment. The survey found that nearly 91 percent, said they are receiving less than one-fifth, or 20 percent, of job applications from women. 

In 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s comment obviously added fuel to the fire when he said women shouldn’t ask for raises, and that, like karma, it would all even out in the end. With the furor caused by the statement, including on social media platforms, Nadella had no choice but retracted his statement terming it “inarticulate” and “completely wrong”.

However, experts believe the problem is not with Nadella or any person who should be singled out, but in the mindset that’s operating in the IT industry. According to Catalyst global research, there are considerable gender pay gaps within the tech sector as well as across other industry sectors. In India itself in the tech sector women and men start out as equals with equal pay and responsibility, and similar aspirations to the highest levels, including that of CEO. However, the gender gap emerges over time. Women lag behind men to about $6,000 by the time they are 12 years into their careers, says the research firm. This is where intentional action and leadership come to play to root out these disparities within organizations.

 Read: For Women in IT, Gender Gap Leads To Stunted Career Growth

Training men on gender awareness

While gender initiatives in IT firms have traditionally focused on improving women’s participation in the workplace, many companies are realizing the need to have more men as advocates for diversity.  One reason is that technology still remains a male-dominated field. Bringing men into the conversation of diversity is in a company’s best interest and is paramount to creating equality in business leadership.

In Ukil’s case, the tribunal found that comments made by some of the male Wipro employees, Sid Sharma and George Joseph on separate occasions reflected an “extra undercurrent of sexism in their attitudes” towards Ukil, with remarks that aceplainly conveyed a sexist innuendo”.

Wipro however mentioned in an email statement: “The company has built its business over the years by ensuring it adheres to the highest standards of integrity, fairness, and ethical corporate practices. Any transgression of these beliefs and policies will continue to be dealt with expeditiously and with the strictest action.  We have been recognized in various fora for our progressive and proactive Inclusion & Diversity frameworks.”

For several years now, Wipro has had a Global Prevention of Sexual Harassment Committee (PSHC), an impartial body for investigation, with members across locations, including an external expert. Needless to say, the company recently partnered with Princess Nourah University (PNU) to inaugurate an all women Business and Technology Park that is expected to create nearly 21,000 jobs for Saudi women over a period of 10 years. Despite that, there’s a gap, believe analysts.

Read more: Why Gender Equality Must Be A Boardroom Issue

“I hope that following this judgment, companies will again reconsider their treatment of female employees, ensuring they are treated fairly and equally. I hope that this verdict will encourage women everywhere at every level to raise their voice and be heard. It is undoubtedly a struggle and a very hard one but the only way to change this equation is by ensuring that it is brought to light. No organisation or person is too big that they can get away with unethical and illegal behaviour,” Ukil told IANS.

Of course a growing number of tech companies are claiming they pay their male and female employees equally, following pressure from an investment firm to disclose salary data. Microsoft said in a blog post last month that its female employees earn 99.8 cents for every $1 earned by a man with the same job title. Facebook and Apple too reveal they pay their employees equally. gender equality still remains an issue in the technology industry and its high time one should start thinking about it seriously.