Why latest sexual harassment charge won't dent Phaneesh Murthy's career

After his first brush with scandal at Infosys, Phaneesh Murthy found his way back to the CEO Club. Will it be any different this time?

Abhilasha Khaitan December 20, 2014 20:54:12 IST
Why latest sexual harassment charge won't dent Phaneesh Murthy's career

The facts are blurry as they are wont to be in such cases. But the endgame is clear: regardless of how the charges pan out, Phaneesh Murthy will get another chance. And maybe yet another.

iGate may have axed him on the grounds of not disclosing a relationship with a subordinate. They are further investigating sexual harassment charges which the former CEO is denying. He claimed he was wrongfully targeted in 2002 when he was fired from Infosys for similar reasons. His employers have taken action but Murthy, a pedigreed member of the corporate elite, is crying foul once again, insisting that the real motive is extortion.

Whether the matter will end in an out-of-court settlement like it did in the Infosys case or it will find hearing and judgment in court remains to be seen but it is unlikely in either event that full transparency will prevail. It is even more improbable that Murthy will be out of a job for too long, despite the murky shadow of inappropriate conduct cast over his career.

Why latest sexual harassment charge wont dent Phaneesh Murthys career

Reuters

No matter what the law or company policy says about sexual harassment (and one glance at the iGate policy shows that they tend to be detailed to a fault), the reality - at least in India where women have only recently 'stormed' the workplace, or so they say - is akin to an iceberg. Only a fraction of violations are made visible. We're happy to bury the truth deep into the ocean to avoid discomfort and conflict, similar to other crimes against women.

Having said that, the harsher truth is this: the more powerful the person involved, the less likely he is to suffer any long-term consequences of his action. Murthy was the blue-eyed boy in Infosys at the time the scandal broke. His dismissal would have been the last resort even for a company that took pride in its morality and integrity. In such cases, most organisations would obviously try and nip the problem in the bud rather than actually give the complaint any credence by confronting the accused.

If you have worked long enough, you would have enough case studies to cite here. Take the case of a senior media professional who faced inappropriate conduct from the CEO of the company she was working for. When she brought it up with her immediate superior, she was 'calmed' down by him and gently told to leave the matter alone rather than risk being unfairly targeted. Had she brought up the charge against a less-ranked employee, the outcome may have been different. Simplistic, but true.

Each sexual harassment or even inappropriate workplace relationship controversy only seems to underline the continued disparity in gender roles and relevance for organisations. In a twisted way, movies like Demi Moore's Disclosure, where she was famously accused of sexual harassment by Michael Douglas, almost seem like redemption for the skewed reality.

Objectification of women is a long-established way for men to bond. From locker rooms to boardrooms, the same principles apply. In fact, the gender divide in the corporate world is best revealed by off-the-record conversations about these controversies where the level of discussion moves from the base to the not-so-sublime. But most of that is unprintable and/or unworthy of sharing.

What is, unfortunately, undeniable is that there are various shades of sexual misconduct and unless the worst is established, the sympathy factor usually works in favour of the accused, at least by his peer group. Which is why while the present may be troubled for Murthy, the future holds enough potential. His considerable accomplishments have earned him entry into the old boy's club of tycoons and honchos. And they seem to protect their own.

The author writes on popular culture, cricket and whatever else takes her fancy. She tweets @abbykhaitan.

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