Sexual harassment in the workplace is a hot topic lately, with infamous cases headlining in the last few months - Uber, Harvey Weinstein, etc.
On October 12th, a group of Human Resources professionals sat down with Phoenix Risen and Duma Works in Nairobi to discuss sexual harassment as a problem and how to handle good policy in the workplace.
Thank you to our Changemakers for participating in our workshop and taking the next steps to change sexual harassment policy creation and implementation in Kenya. Thank you to J’s Fresh Bar + Kitchen for hosting our event, and to Duma Works for collaborating with us on this effort. The takeaways from this workshop pinpoint the key issues that makeup the overall problem of sexual harassment as a first step to prevention of these incidents.
The workshop strived to answer the tough questions. What are the underlying factors of sexual harassment? The group brainstormed that sociocultural constraints limit the attention sexual harassment cases are given. African culture celebrates power of men over women. This stifles female voices that might try to condemn sexual harassment while sex-related discussions are frowned upon in society.
What happens when men are exposed to sexual harassment at the workplace? Due to expectations of traditional masculinity, it is difficult for men to report cases of harassment out of fear they will be regarded as “less of a man.” What results is pent up distress that lowers productivity in the workplace and in employees’ personal lives.
Another crucial factor is power balance in the workplace. Nearly all sexual harassment perpetrators are in upper-management, whereas victims tend to be low or middle-level employees. When news of an alleged sexual harassment incident reaches HR, they might enable inappropriate behavior when weighing what the company has to lose if they choose to investigate. On one side of the scale is a top company executive and on the other side is an employee low in the hierarchy. “What is the easiest way out? Do we back the victim and face a PR nightmare or are we going to turn a blind eye and save the company lump sum?” The justification of cost-benefit analysis in this case is used as cognitive dissonance to make unethical choices.
We hope that good sexual harassment policy and implementation procedures take into account these obstacles and make the reporting process easier, transparent, and action-oriented.