The Deviant Golden Egg laying Goose and The Farmer

The case of Phaneesh Murthy raises some issues which are of serious concern to HR professionals.

Phaneesh Murthy has been sacked by his employer, iGATE, of which he was the CEO for sexual harassment. This is the second high profile sexual harassment case for Murthy, the first was the much publicized Infosys case. And therefore this case brings to the fore many issues which are both common and unique.

The first issue is whether one should employ a person involved in sexual harassment case at all. There would be many who would say ‘No’ we will not employ him at all – we do not want to take a risk knowingly. The assumption is that if you did it once, you have told

the world about your proclivity, and you will, in all probability do it again. [I wonder whether insurance companies saw Murthy’s employment as CEO as enhanced risk and liability while selling insurance cover to iGATE].

The emotional interactions between a man and a woman are very complex. It is not easy, though it is pragmatic, for us to presume that a person convicted of sexual harassment will be serial offender. We saw this, the man as a serial offender, being portrayed dramatically by Sanjeev Kumar in ‘Pati, Patni aur Woh.’ I think it was Vijay Tendulkar who said that every man was like a ‘Tiger on a prowl’ looking for his ‘prey,’ and many persons, particularly ladies seem to confirm this view. While discussing employment of women in a male dominated organisation, I heard one executive recommend women’s employment because ‘men raise their invisible plumage in the company of women.’

We return to the issue: Will you employ somebody who was sacked previously on the ground of sexual harassment, in your organisation? Unfortunately, we do not know, and nobody writes about a case where the man is reformed, and is leading a good life after a fling. May be Amitabh Bachchan, who is reported to have had an affair with Rekha is a case in point, or may be Bill Clinton who was involved in Monica-gate. [Incidentally Bill Clinton was not impeached and remained in office notwithstanding the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice brought against him]. A reformed man does not make a good story, a persistently evil man does.

Why do people persist in criminal activities like sexual harassment? Here is a possible answer from Colin Wilson who says “…. man made his most important discovery; that control is not simply a negative virtue. Anyone who has been forced to master some difficult technique – such as playing a musical instrument – knows that learning begins 

with irritation and frustration; the task seems to be as thankless as breaking in a wild horse. Then, by some unconscious process, control begins to develop. There is a cautious glow of satisfaction as we begin to scent success. Then, quite suddenly, the frustration is transformed into a feeling of power and control. It dawns upon us that when a wild horse ceases to be wild, it becomes an invaluable servant…… It is a power for conquest, for changing our lives. Once man has made this discovery, he looks around for new fields to conquer.”

The reason behind Murthy’s astounding success in his career and equally shocking failure is the same; it is the desire to control and conquest, everything and everybody. The dominant male, the tiger on prowl are the images of this ‘controlling’ man.

The issue, to my mind, is not whether you will employ a man with a history of sexual harassment. The real issue is whether an organisation [read its senior managers] has the will and courage to reign in a manager who shows excessive ‘controlling’ tendencies. 

And we can see failures on this count all around us, in every organisation. The knowledgeable say that the affair of Phaneesh with Reka was known to several persons in Infosys before it went sour. And the second affair, in all probability, was known to many too in iGATE.

It is good to part ways at this stage rather than meeting in the courts of law. What say you? But it requires courage to kill a deviant golden-egg-laying-goose, and that quality is in short supply.