Grin and bear it

Friday November 24 2017

Women, who bear the brunt of sexual harassment,

Women, who bear the brunt of sexual harassment, often still have to work with their predators in the face of ineffective HR reporting protocols. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By FLORENCE BETT
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Grin and bear it

Grace*, 29, marketing manager at a manufacturing company “I joined the company a year ago. The sales manager started flirting with me a few months later – he’s 40, and was well-liked and respected because he’d brought in about 30 per cent of the company’s business.

“He’d send me WhatsApp messages that always started with ‘Dear’ or ‘Sweetheart’, and ask me to have a drink with him on weekends. I always brushed him off because I believed his flirts meant nothing, then I’d delete his messages. He later started telling me he likes me. One day he told me he loves me. That’s the day I told him to stop because it was making me uncomfortable. He stopped but only for a while.

“Last June, we went for four-day client trip to Nakuru with him and a female colleague. He insisted on carrying my luggage to my room and when we got there, he forced himself on me with a kiss. I was extremely upset! I held the door wide open and asked him to leave.

“We were to meet clients in the town the next morning and I delayed by a few minutes; he told the driver to leave me behind. I took a cab to the meeting and on our way back, I completely lost it. I told him I was tired of his behaviour and if he wasn’t going to straighten his act, I’d report him to HR.

“He said nothing but pulled out his phone and sent an email to the CEO; he copied me, my immediate boss and all his bosses. He wrote that I was rude and insubordinate, and had called him unspeakable names.

“HR summoned us when we returned. I was told to write a show-cause letter explaining why I insulted my senior. I told them the entire story. It was all very embarrassing and exhausting, honestly, and I looked like a lying fool. I later developed stress-related illnesses and was away from work for two weeks.

“There was a hearing that August and HR asked me to show proof of his sexual harassment. I had nothing and after the hearings, I was given a warning letter for misbehaving and losing my temper.

“That September, during my appraisals, my immediate boss told me I’m a risk to the company and that he was worried that such sexual harassment cases would become a pattern he’d have to be dealing with. He recommended I be put on a performance improvement programme and get a six-month probation contract. My year’s worth of hard work went unnoticed and the predator got away with it. It was really unfair. I’m now serving notice to leave the company at the end of the year.”

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Tabitha*, 30, graphic designer at an advertising agency “It was early 2015 when I was asked by one of my seniors to join a client project. It was a challenging high-profile project that would be beneficial to my career; I’d even get a cash bonus every month.

“Things got off to a great start. After the first month, he called me over to his desk and asked, ‘Have you received your pay?’ I said yes. He asked, ‘So when will you pay me?’ I assumed he wanted a cut of my bonus but he hastily added, ‘I want sex.’?

“I was taken back. This conversation marked the start of his harassment. Every time I emailed him my work, he’d email or text me saying, ‘When will I get my gift?’ This went on consistently for about six months. I didn’t report him to anyone because I wanted to keep my spot on the project.

Women, who bear the brunt of sexual harassment,

Women, who bear the brunt of sexual harassment, often still have to work with their predators in the face of ineffective HR reporting protocols. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

‘It, however, began to affect my delivery. I planned on reporting him to HR but I needed the evidence, so I installed a voice recorded on my phone so I could record him verbatim. One early morning, while I was still in bed with my husband, he called and said, ‘I’m horny.’ I wanted him to state it explicitly so I asked, ‘Do I need to have sex with you to continue working on the project?’ He hesitated for a moment then said, ‘No.’ I told him never to call me again or ever tell me such nonsense. That was the end of it.

“I immediately pulled out of the project and reported him to its the overall senior, even gave him the recording to listen to. All he said was, ‘You can go to HR if you want to.’ I got the impression that he’d rather be a man’s man than a man who outs his male colleague for sexual advances towards a female and junior team member.

“He still talks to me, the predator. I don’t have to see him every day because we work on different floors. On some days, he’ll come to my desk and cheerily say hi to me. Or he’ll see my work in other client projects and email me to tell me what a great job I’ve done.

“His civility and compliments mean nothing to me. He assumes that supporting me in my work is how to make amends but it really isn’t. I want a sincere apology from him. I want him to understand that what he did to me was wrong and be sorry for it. I haven’t forgiven him and yes, I’m aware that he may never apologise.”

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Marion*, 33, senior operations officer at a government ministry “I’ve worked with the government since 2010. Exchanging sexual favours is the culture in most government offices – female junior employees have sex with senior male colleagues (their ‘Godfathers’) to earn more money and get bigger positions.

“The only way I’ve been able to work with sexual predators and grow my career in government without a ‘Godfather’ is by burying my head in my work, making my boundaries known from the get-go and changing departments every two, three years.

“The first time my (then) boss asked me for sex was during an out-of-town work trip in 2012. I was appalled. I told him I was on my period and promised him we’d do it on another day. I even gave him a specific date. This kept him at bay for while but he kept badgering me and I kept moving the date. I reported him to the HR in tears and I still remember what she told me, I’ll never forget, she said, ‘Big offices work like that.’

“Late 2013, I was transferred to a different department. The boss here was a physically challenged man but his crutches didn’t stop him from summoning the female interns into his office and groping them. I adopted a no-nonsense approach and made my boundaries known to him. What worked in my favour is that I was excellent at my job.

“His propositions, however, got bolder over time. I knew that a sexual harassment complaint would go nowhere so I anonymously reported him on charges of corruption. He must have found out I filed the charges and instead of him getting fired, I’m the one who faced his wrath: He’d yell at me in front of others, call me bad names, embarrass me at meetings, he even started a rumour that I was overworking the interns. He made it unbearable for me to work anymore.

“I left that department in late 2015 and vowed to work with women only. Things were going well until a few months ago, in April, when we got a new male head of operations who compliments me at every opportunity. He’ll say, ‘Marion, does your Kisii man know what a beauty you are?’ Or, ‘That body! I can’t even tell you have two kids!’ He’ll also WhatsApp me images and videos of pornography.

“I’m fed up now! It’s been seven years of keeping my guard up and I’m honestly fed up.

I’m avoiding him for now and minimising contact, but he’s the overall department head so I still need to keep talking to him every often. One day soon, I know it’ll boil over and I’ll explode in his face.”

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Rose*, 42, media consultant with a publishing house

?“I’ve repeatedly been harassed throughout my career but the incident I remember poignantly is the one that happened in 2012. I’d been recruited to this NGO as a managing editor, and on the day of orientation I learned that I was the only female senior manager.

“The GM was German and in one of our initial weekly manager meetings, he pointed out how attractive I was but that I was so harsh that he was afraid of asking me out. Everyone in the meeting chuckled. Such sexualised comments almost always came up at our manager’s meeting and they soon became a sore point with me.

“One of the juniors I supervised was sleeping with this German boss and their relationship was far gone, so it grated him that I was not getting into the plot like she was. He started sending me memos saying I was not performing at my job, or I was too concerned about what the juniors were doing outside of work, or that I was getting in the way of how the organisation was run.

“This German boss aside, there was a manager from the accounts department who was younger than I am and lower in rank. One morning, in early 2014, I was standing by his desk discussing some documents when he grabbed me by the waist then moved his hands up and down my body, touching me everywhere. Then he whispered in my ear, ‘Kwani how come you don’t want me and the way I’m attracted to you?’ His office was closed-door and had a bathroom so he suggested we dash in there for a quickie. I was infuriated! What was the matter with these men, were they all conditioned to ask for sex from their female colleagues?

That incident is what drove me to the HR. HR listened and only said, ‘You know I cannot interfere because they are my bosses.’

“The German boss’s sexualised comments continued in our weekly meetings until late 2014 when I flared up and told him off before I stormed out of the building. He later sent me a memo saying my services were terminated.

“I took my case to the industrial court on charges of unfair dismissal. All the incidences of sexual harassment came up as evidence and sealed my win in the case. I’m a consultant with a publishing house now and the key contact has already implied I have to sleep with him to get contracts.”

*Names have been changed to protect the women’s identity


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