'A CSO Has To Use Every Means At Disposal To Ensure The Safety Of Female Employees'

We spoke to Shalini Paul, Consultant & SME-Women Security (Technology) to understand the changing role of a CSO in ensuring women’s safety as part of an organization, how she foresees security strategies around gender sensitive issues maturing in Indian corporate organizations, role played by new technologies such as AI in ensuring women’s safety, and also that by expos such as IFSEC India in increasing awareness around women’s security.

The Safety Of Female Employees

Please dwell on the changing role of a CSO in ensuring women’s security as part of an organization.

Chief Security Officer’s (CSO) job is to protect people, assets, infrastructure, information and technology. Out of the personnel, a CSO’s core area of concern and care lies in the safety of the female employees. With the ever-increasing number of female employees not only in the Tier 1 but also Tier 2/3 cities, providing a safe work environment becomes exponentially essential. The CSO has to not only ensure a safe work environment inside the work space but also provide a safe everyday commute to and from the work place. This is the area of highest risk where employees can be subjected to unforeseen and uncontrollable external factors which can be difficult to predict. This also includes domestic and international travel by female employees only adding to the risk and requirement for extra precaution and preparedness. The CSO today is required to be able to gauge and identify potential risks and prepare a system which can ensure safest work/travel environment. Keeping on top of the game the CSO has to use every means at disposal to ensure the safety of the female employees. It would also be advisable for a CSO to engage the women in the work force and educate them on their own safety via regular workshops and training. A case in example is the practise of simple things like -disabling child lock before taking a cab, can go a long way in preventing risk. The CSO must ensure the female employees are aware about the processes/ procedures to follow to (a) first to prevent any threat (b) to report/manage any threat (including sexual harassment/abuse) It is the responsibility of a CSO to provide ‘Duty of Care’ and a successful leader in this space employs every technique and technology at disposal to ensure female employee safety.

How do you foresee security strategies maturing in the Indian corporate organizations, with focus on gender-sensitive issues?

There have been some highly unfortunate events occurring with regard to women safety in India. This has shaken the Indian Corporates to take notice and seriously consider the safety of their women employees, giving it the highest priority. The government has also aided this effort by introducing stricter laws, trying to ensure safe work environment for the female work force.

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is binding by law on any organization with more than ten women employees working for an organization.

Provisions pertaining to permissible working hours (for women) in a day/week; intervals of rest etc. for manufacturing units are provided under Factories Act, 1948 and for commercial establishments in the respective State based Shop & Establishments Act. Each State has its own Factories Rules through which Factories Act is enforced.

It is to be understood that working beyond permissible hours for women can only be on rare occasions and not a norm. Any deviation from this requires prior permission of Govt. Authorities. Such permissions are conditional and impose restrictions and duties on the employer aimed at ensuring security of female employees. Arranging for secured transportation to female employees working beyond permissible hours is mandatory. Non-adherence of such conditions attracts penalties. In case a female employee becomes a victim of crime against her body because of such negligence on the part of the employer, management of the employer is exposed to criminal penalties. Hence, it becomes imperative that today a CSO must ensure safe work environment including door to door pick up and drop of employees, especially women employees in the night shift. Escorting has become a major function and point of concern for the management. GPS enabled drop buses/cabs are the preferred modes adopted by corporates. The deployment of Quick Response Teams (QRTs) along the daily employee route is also rising. Responsible CSOs ensure chauffeurs with enough training in defensive driving are employed in ferrying female employees.

As per law, since the ‘Head’ of the company is responsible for the safety and security of the employees, if the female employees insist on traveling alone or taking other risks, they must give it in writing to the company’s Head HR, in order to absolve the company from their responsibility.

Most MNCs tend to follow the ‘Best Practices’ especially related to female security and it would do the Indian companies a world of benefit if they would make efforts and gain from these practises and inculcate them into their organizations.

What role can new technologies such as AI play in enhancing security for women?

Technology today is the best bet any organization can count on to aid in ensuring safety of its female employees. There are a large number of Apps along with GPS and SOS buttons which can be provided via smart phones to track/assist female employees. Company specific Apps can also be developed in order to provide safety to female employees even in Tier2/3 cities. There are several types of safety Apps, some are State specific and some work all over India. There is the ‘Himmat Plus’ App in Delhi NCR, ‘Buddy Cop’ App in Pune, ‘Suraksha’ App in Karnataka and PAN India Apps like Rakhsha App or private Apps like ‘bsafe’ which can be downloaded and used. All these Apps have a digital SOS button which when pressed sends out an SOS along with the location to predetermined set of guardians on their phones in the form of SMS, and even to the nearest police station in government sponsored Apps.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the power to collect, recognize and interpret patterns. And based upon these patterns, AI makes suggestions to the users, using its capability for their own safety. It can help mark areas ‘Safe’ or ‘Unsafe’ depending on the data collected by various users like in the App ‘safetipin’. AI-powered apps reduce the user’s blind spot and allow them to make well-informed decisions.

Life 360 is another App using AI, where not only can your location be traced all the time but your driving habits are also monitored and safety report and safe driving suggestions given. AI devices like Amazon’s Echo Dot have also developed Apps thru which calling out to ‘Alexa’ one can ask for help and Alexa will immediately send an SOS to predetermined numbers. However, this App is yet to enter the Indian market. Additionally, there are several other devices like physical panic buttons linked via Apps, hidden in jewellery like pendants (SAFER), watches (SONATA WE WATCH), rings, etc. New gadgets are being introduced everyday like key chains for example in which a high decibel alarm goes off scaring away the perpetrators and alerting others nearby to come for assistance. Government of India supported ‘112’ SOS number is also present as a physical panic button (Power On/Off) in all phones manufactured after 2015- (Just press it three four times in quick succession on your phone and 112 gets dialled automatically, works even on non-smart phones).

Cabs are in high use in India and GPS linked panic buttons are a must in all cabs. The button once pressed sets off an alarm in the cab company’s control centre and because of the GPS the car can be easily traced and the issue addressed within a specific and immediate time frame.

RFID cards can be used to keep a track on safe travel of women and is also being used by schools to enhance the security of children.

There is a whole lot of technology available which can aid in securing women safety, but women should be advised to undergo trainings in order to be able to use these gadgets comfortably and confidently. Their first response to an unfriendly situation can be the difference between life and death at some unforeseen time. This can be achieved via continuous workshops on the same and here the organization must ensure everyone’s participation since there is no other option but to ensure ‘Women’s Safety First’!

How do you think expos such as IFSEC India can be leveraged by the security stakeholders to enhance awareness about security products and learn about security strategies?

Expos like IFSEC can play a pivotal role by bringing together on one platform all the security stakeholders like the Security professionals on one hand who manage several security issues on a daily basis and the Developers of Safety products on the other hand. Not only does this provide much required visibility to the Developers of safety products, it also encourages mutual engagement. Security professionals can provide first-hand information to the developers on their concerns and challenges giving the developers much required insight into real issues. This is bound to result in more effective solutions being provided coming forward. Similarly, the Security professionals will be in tune with all the latest inventions and technologies available at their disposal to help them provide better security for their employees. This way expos like IFSEC can be major players facilitating the next-gen advancement in providing safer security environment, especially leveraging technology as we live in a high-tech world and also an increasingly high risk one.