The many affairs of Phaneesh Murthy

The case demonstrates that most men, especially those in positions of power, believe office indiscretions are no big deal

Some boys just can't keep their pants up. Phaneesh Murthy, the now deposed CEO of iGate, is the most recent example of how office relationships can implode in your face. Forty years after sexual harassment in the workplace first introduced itself to our lexicon, the Murthy affair reflects a sad and cautionary tale. For although in India and across many parts of the world sexual harassment is recognised as a workplace hazard for which there should be zero tolerance, the fact is, just like gender and colour discrimination, it continues to exist.

Surely, for those of us who can remember the landmark, televised hearing of lawyer Anita Hill against then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991, it would appear that men (and let's face it, it is almost always men) had learned a thing or two about office peccadilloes. I was in college in the US when the confirmation hearings happened and I still recall the squirmy, embarrassing details that were aired publicly. Young and foolish as I was, I presumed Thomas was done for, but here he is, more than two decades later, upholding the conservative side of the bench. As for his accuser, most folks would say, "Anita who?"

It turns out that Murthy is a repeat offender, having had to leave Infosys over similar accusations. Both victims settled out of court, but it begs the question: what were the folks involved in the iGate CEO search committee thinking when they appointed him? This case once again demonstrates that most men, especially those in positions of power, tend to believe that office indiscretions are no big deal.

For those who think that the conduct of high flyers such as Murthy, or indeed that of David Davidar, the former head of Penguin Canada against whom allegations of sexual harassment surfaced in 2010 (since settled out of court) are an aberration, here are some facts. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, a 2010 survey by New Delhi-based non-profit, the Centre for Transforming India, found that 88 per cent of women employees in the IT and outsourcing sector had faced some sexual harassment in the workplace.

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