DEALING WITH SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE

INTRODUCTION

Sexual harassment is a challenging situation that most people, particularly women, are faced within the workplace. While it is mostly experienced by women men also experience it and the unwelcome advances can be same sex and heterosexual in nature. It is also a power relation issue that normally affects those in a weaker position more. As a result, men, particularly those who are powerful, rich and in authority are usually perpetrators, however powerful women too can be perpetrators of sexual harassment. Just like workplace bullying, which I talked about in my last article, sexual harassment can negatively affect worker morale and productivity. Therefore, everyone who wears the employee hat should know how to manage it.

WHAT IS SEXUAL HARRASSMENT?

According to Reva B Siegel (2003) sexual harassment is a social practice that has institutional and semiotic lives. Social practices have histories it is therefore important to have a historical understanding of the harassment. In this article the institutional life of sexual harassment is discussed within the workplace.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) sexual harassment is a serious manifestation of sex discrimination and a violation of human rights. It can encompass a range of behaviors that include:

  • Gendered harassment- sexist statements and behaviour, obscene jokes about sex
  • Seductive behaviour- unwanted, inappropriate, and offensive sexual advances
  • Sexual bribery- soliciting for sexual favor in return for a reward
  • Sexual coercion- coercion of sexual activity or other sex-linked behavior by threat of punishment
  • Sexual imposition- gross sexual imposition like touching, feeling, and grabbing or sexual assault

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines it as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission or rejection implicitly or explicitly affects your work life outcomes.

HISTORICAL PESPECTIVE

More often than not, by the time you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace you will have experienced it elsewhere- in the home, at church or in the public. You will probably think it is happening to you only, but you need to know this is a global pandemic that is rooted in patriarchy and gender discrimination. Patriarchy describes a general structure in which men have power over women throughout organized society and individual relationships. Patriarchy also affects men due to the hierarchy among men which places elder me over younger generations of men- the hierarchy varies due to different forms of power relations among men. This means that all genders – cis gendered and transgendered people get to experience sexual harassment as perpetrators or victims. Originally patriarchy excluded woman from the workplace therefore sexual harassment is one of the many ways that it still works to push women out of the workplace.

Women are the most affected group. According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner. The violence typically starts early with 1 in 4 women aged between 15-24 years being in a relationship where they have already experienced violence. Workplaces mirror our society therefore this reality is true in many of them.

Intersectionality variables make some women more vulnerable to sexual harassment than others for example women with disabilities can be more vulnerable because they face disability exclusions on top of gender exclusions and poverty can increase their vulnerability. Even in the group of women with disabilities the vulnerabilities can vary due to the nature of disability. A womn who is visually impaired can be affeected differently from a woman with hearing impairments. Similarly with our different sexualities becoming more visible in today’s worklaces the vulnerability within the LGBTIQ community will not be homogenous and the history of their marginalisation cant be ignored. Other intersexctionality aspects to be considered include culture, race, nationality, religion, class, age etc.

You have a responsibility to be mindful of this historical overview when you get into any workplace. Always be midful about your own actions by watching what you say or do, be aware of your own power so that you do not find yourself perpetrating this negative trait.

EFFECTS OF SEXUAL HARRASSMENT

Sexual harassment has negative consequences for your work output, mental and physical health. Knowing that you have someone who is going to be making unwanted advances can easily make you hate your job. You can easily move from looking forward to getting down to a project with a colleague to avoiding them and any tasks where you must collaborate. In today’s workplaces teamwork and collaboration is very important. Therefore, when you are avoiding workmates and disliking your work your team members also begin to suffer.

They may start finding it hard to work with you especially if you start experiencing anxiety and depression which may result in tardiness and missing deadlines. You may find yourself angry all the time and that too will impact your interpersonal skills. Soft skills are as important as your ability to complete a task therefore the negative impact on your ability to communicate and influence is significant. There is always a threat of escalation into worst forms of sexual harassment like rape. These will have you worrying also about your physical health because of the risk of succumbing to sexually transmitted diseases.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT IF YOU ARE A VICTIM

No matter how powerless you feel you should never allow a sexual harassment situation to perpetuate itself. Below are some things you can do to manage bullying in the workplace (some of the actions under my bullying article are relevant and included here)

  1. Keep record on the sexual harassment behaviour
  2. Clearly communicate your rejection of the requests and advances. Always leave paper trail for future reference
  3. Check national policy to know the obligations of your employer on the issue and to know the policies that protect you.
  4. Check and use company policy. Once you know where to report always tell the aggressor that you are going to report them and always follow through on your word
  5. Get counselling to guard your mental and physical health
  6. There is power in numbers. Share your experiences with work colleagues to raise awareness, build solidarity and find help.
  7. Read about sexual harassment, patriarchy, and gender to empower yourself and others
  8. Leave the job if you can’t change the environment and if your safety is at risk

FOR EMPLOYERS

For some employers this may seem to be an employee problem which is none of their business. But as you have already read sexual harassment affects work output and this makes it their business. It is therefore good business to create a work environment that does not promote any form of sexual harassment. Investing in policies that promote gender equity and protection is very important. Adult safeguarding policies, whistle blowing policies, training are all good investments. Accessible and safe reporting platforms should be available and known to employees.

CONCLUSION

Sexual harassment is rooted in patriarchy, and it is important for you to know and understand how this system works. Recognise the powerplays and utilize the accountability channels available to neutralize that abused power. Employers have a responsibility to ensure an environment that does not promote the harassment of employees- they should consider vulnerable employees and establish protection measures.

Dealing with bullying in the workplace

INTRODUCTION

Bullying is something we normally associate with school playgrounds and childhood. When we encounter it in the workplace, we usually do not classify this negative behavior in adults as bullying and if we do, we really do not know what to do about it. Without a mum or dad to share our bullying experience with and having them report to our class teacher so that the issue is addressed we generally feel helpless. In this article I help you understand the characteristics of workplace bullying and how to deal with it decisively and professionally.

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

WHAT IS BULLYING?

According to the Cambridge dictionary bullying is when one behaves in a manner that is meant to hurt or frighten someone smaller or less powerful, often forcing that person to do what they do not want to do. It can be influenced by aspects like racism, homophobia, sexism, tribalism, ageism, and all other isms that will be useful in justifying instilling fear, pain, exclusion and repression. Usually, one experiences repeated intimidatory incidences therefore one can name and describe a pattern of behaviour by the bully. With the increased use of the internet in our daily life cyber bullying is becoming a common phenomenon. The distinguishing aspect of workplace bullying is that it happens in a workplace environment. This includes your physical place of work like an office, your workplace email and other e-systems where you interact and any other places where you engage with workmates on work related issues. Sometimes bullying tendencies can transfer into your private space if the bully has access to your private life.

WHO CAN BE A BULLY?

Anyone can be a bully, and anyone can be bullied. Bullies are normally individuals who are very insecure. In the workplace they are normally insecure about their professional capacity. They secure their position by pulling down others. They are afraid and mask their fear through their cruel behaviour. If you look inside them, you will identify where their fear comes from. Most of the time they need help to be better persons. While that is so it is not your mission and responsibility to make them better. Just as anyone can be a bully anyone can be bullied. Therefore you should never accept the position of weakness that can allow you to be manipulated and undermined. You did not come with such a tag at creation.

EXAMPLES OF WORKPLACE BULLYING

Below are some examples of workplace bullying that have been listed by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. It is important to note that these examples can be difficult to classify as bullying if they have happened once. They can also be experienced overtly or subtly.

  • Denying a person tools for their work for no reason
  • Spreading malicious rumours, gossip, or innuendo.
  • Excluding or isolating someone socially.
  • Intimidating a person.
  • Undermining or deliberately impeding a person’s work.
  • Physically abusing or threatening abuse.
  • Removing areas of responsibilities without cause.
  • Constantly changing work guidelines.
  • Establishing impossible deadlines that will set up the individual to fail.
  • Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information.
  • Making jokes that are ‘obviously offensive’ by spoken word or e-mail.
  • Intruding on a person’s privacy by pestering, spying or stalking.
  • Assigning unreasonable duties or workload which are unfavourable to one person (in a way that creates unnecessary pressure).
  • Underwork – creating a feeling of uselessness.
  • Yelling or using profanity.
  • Criticizing a person persistently or constantly.
  • Belittling a person’s opinions.
  • Unwarranted (or undeserved) punishment.
  • Blocking applications for training, leave or promotion.
  • Tampering with a person’s personal belongings or work equipment

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

No matter how powerless you feel you should never allow a bullying situation to perpetuate itself. Below are some things you can do to manage bullying in the workplace

Photo by Dee @ Copper and Wild on Unsplash

Keep record on the bullying behaviour

The first thing you can do to address bullying is recording the evidence of bullying. Never delete emails, documents, recorded voice conversations and video incidences of bullying because you will need to demonstrate the patterned behavior that constitutes bullying.  Where there is no physical evidence take note of the incident, date, time, place and the witnesses.

Check company policy

Most companies have policies that spell out how bullying is handled. If you are not aware of such a policy visit the human resources office or equivalent and find out if your company has any laid out procedures to address bullying. If such a policy exists read and understand it, ask questions to the person responsible for the policy. Use the policy content to manage your bullying experiences and make sure the bully knows that you are aware of the company policy and that you will act on it if they continue. Remember that consultation is not escalation. If the bullying continues follow the steps that are laid out in policy to seek remedy from your employer.

Get counselling

Workplace bullying can be traumatic. It can lead to depression, low self esteem and even physical illness and pain. Seek the services of professional counsellors to help you manage your emotions, mental health and physical body. Most workplaces nowadays have wellness policies that provide workers with inhouse or contracted counselling services at no cost to the employee. If your workplace does not have such services find ways to get counselling either through private practitioners, community services or through family and friends if you cannot afford to pay for the service. Getting counselling is important because it helps you process what you are going through, to regain your internal superpower and it improves your self-esteem. An improved self esteem will help you face the bully with confidence which can usually be intimidating to the bully. Without counselling a victim of bullying can sometimes become a perpetrator as part of their process to heal. Hurt people hurt others.

Share your experiences with work colleagues

Always find someone in your workplace whom you can share your experiences with.  Sharing your experiences may lead you to identifying other victims of the bullying, finding allies in managing the situation and locating empathisers who can help you map solutions. In some cases you may sadly find out who is an ally to the bully and some may never clarify their position on the matter, therefore share cautiously.

Leave the job

Sometimes it is impossible to get remedy either because a workplace has got no policy in place to deal with bullying, the bully is in a position of power and cannot be challenged and there is no support from colleagues and managers. In such instances the only option is to leave the unhealthy work environment. Believe you me no job is worth staying at if you must sacrifice your superpower and professional progress. Leaving will allow you to heal of the trauma that bullying brings. It will also open you up to finding a new job in a place that values and protects you and to identify new places where you can thrive.

CONCLUSION

Bullying happens in the workplace. Like everywhere else bullies are normally very insecure and afraid people who hide behind their mean nature- you should not be afraid of them. Always check for company policies that protect you in the workplace. Do not hesitate to use them and where there are no policies advocate for them. Put yourself first and never allow an unhealthy environment to take a toll on you.

I have lost my job…what must I do?

Losing a job can be very difficult especially when you are not prepared for it. It is emotionally wrecking because losing a job is like losing a part of you and loss is generally a difficult thing to handle. In addition to dealing with this personal loss you also need to think about how to manage your life going forward. For most people, job losses come when they are least prepared – at a time when they do not know how they will handle their daily upkeep and fixed term financial commitments. This results in short term plans being cancelled and sometimes long terms ones being written off too. With all these negative possibilities it is very easy to lose hope, get into a depression and enter a period of regression. Feelings of despair can leave you thinking you have lost control of your life.

You have control.

No-matter what, you have control over your life. If your feelings are contrary to this there are a few things that you can do to manage the impact of losing a job and regain control.

Take Stock

The first thing you need to do is take stock of where you are:

  • financially– check how much money you have in your savings and how long it will last based on an adjusted budget. You can not keep on spending the same way you did when you had a job. Check how much you will get from your severance package and likewise budget for it. Do not panic if you do not have any savings- there is always a way in life and if its not money that will help you manage it will be something else.
  • emotionally– check how you are faring emotionally. Depending on how you have lost the job you should expect to experience a mix of feelings which may include anger, bitterness, sadness, anxiety etc. You then need map how you are going to deal with your emotions in a healthy way. Succeeding in handling your emotions will be key in ensuring full control over your life.
  • skills- do a skills audit to establish the skills that you have. The easiest starting point is through listing what you have been doing in the job that you have just lost. But your skills can also include other abilities that you utilise in other areas. So you can be an accountant who is also a good story teller. Skills audits help you to establish abilities that you can monetize
  • networks– family, social, professional net works are important to establish because they will help you manage during the next few months. Family and friends help you manage emotionally. They allow you to share how you are feeling and what you are going through while giving you hope that your situation will get better. These in addition to the professional networks also help you to locate new opportunities.

Strategize

Taking stock helps you to map how you are going to respond to the situation that is unfolding before you. Utilise the information gathered from the stock taking process to persue the 3 following paths

  • Golden goose pathway– there will be basic amenities to meet before you get the next job or even set up the next side gig. Your golden goose strategy will help you find ways to make money which comes on a daily or weekly basis. This is the money that you will use to pay for things like food, fuel, water and electricity. Normally you should have this set up even when you are working but if you have not already done so you should check what you can do with the money that you have therefore setting it up should not require huge investments. This can include buying and selling miscellaneous products or agricultural produce from your garden etc.
  • Job Search pathway– You then need to have a solid plan for how you will look for a job. Everything has to be deliberate and you should handle this like a mini project that comes with deadlines for:
    • updating your CV
    • updating your LinkedIN profile
    • sending solicited and unsolicited cover letter samples
    • listing a clear understanding of your personal and professional values
    • coming up with a list of companies that you would like to work for including subscribing to their job notifications
    • submitting job application plan for solicited and unsolicited jobs including how you will use your networks to do so
    • up-skilling for specific jobs that you may be interested in while job hunting
  • Side Gig set up pathway– You are a brand and the skills that you used in your job are not confined to usage by an employer. The skills that you acquired through your studies should not lie dormant. You too can use them to create your own work and get paid. You too can service individuals and companies alike. You must therefore package your self so that you are suitable for contracting and this may include:
    • defining your portfolio i.e. profiling yourself as a researcher, trainer, story teller depending on your skills set. Know how much your services are worth to avoid under or over pricing yourself. Both can lead service seekers to avoid you because they can’t afford you and because they doubt the quality of service they will get, respectively. So know what others are charging and come up with optimum prices.
    • re-framing your social media profiling by generating content that is in line with what your side gig will be about. Your social media account is the most important starting point because this is where most of your networks will be located and they are the ones that will likely generate your first gig
    • Setting up a website is an easy thing to do nowadays. As your main branding and jobbing space it will demonstrate that you are serious about your work and can be engaged. So get onto wordpress and wix free website platforms and make sure everyone knows about it.
    • Plan to offer free services to individuals and companies to help get your name out there.
    • setting up systems and policies that will likely be required to contract you

Sustain

While you implement your strategy it is important to sustain it by always checking your emotional space. Left unchecked you can become fatigued, frustrated and depressed. Do this on a daily basis so that you gain control over your emotions quickly. Take up hobbies that will help you cope. This is the time to start practicing for that marathon that you always wanted to take part in. With hobbies, you never know, you might discover your true passion and cash cow in the same place.

Stay connected spiritually. When all these practical things are failing you will find strength in a higher power. Stay prayed up. Listen to the inner man and you will always know what to do in any situation that you will encounter along the way.

Remember to manage your costs. Do simple things like growing your own food. If you do not have space turn old drums and buckets into gardening space. Grow your own herbs. Walk and cycle to places that are within reasonable distance – if you push yourself too much it can stress you too. However, this is good because besides saving money it is good for your health.

Stay away from spaces that will put pressure on you to have it together. This is the time to avoid friends that have expensive lives. Look within and do what works for you because if you allow it, pressure will push you to stress and maybe take wrong actions to sustain your desired life.

Always look up to the stars during this journey. You will be fine.

An Adapted Mind: The Key to Crisis Management

What is a crisis?

A crisis is a time of great disagreement, confusion, suffering and difficulty. It can happen at a large scale such as the current global experience characterized by a health crisis- COVID-19 or it can happen at a very small scale such as at a personal level. Crisis situations are almost always difficult to manage because they throw us outside the comfort zone. By nature they hit multiple aspects of life at once therefore individuals or institutions are never dealing with one problem but many at the same time. Most individuals and institutions are never prepared for crisis situations and for the few that do prepare, the preparation is never enough otherwise why would they be called crisis situations if they did not throw even the most prepared off balance.

How the mind normally responds in crisis situations

Most individuals and institutions respond to crisis situations in panic mode. The uncertainty that they see coming throws them off balance and in return they throw away, their calm and everything they know which could help them manage better. Focus is put on this uncertainty and the hazards it brings which in turn grow into mountains that they can’t move. This normally leads to feelings of despair leading to surrendering to the perceived inevitable adverse impact. It also leads to deniability with noone wanting to take responsibility for anything including their roles as leaders, team members, strategists. Deniability also takes the shape of refusing to acknowledge the existence of the crisis drivers and this automatically locks any problem solving mechanisms that can be designed as part of the response. Where leadership fails the waves of panic travel far and wide to those affected by that leadership be it at political, corporate, community or family level.

The COVID-19 Health Crisis

The negative effects COVID-19 health crisis are not different, if not worse for most people. It has brought the world to a halt with disruptions in every aspect of our social, economic, political and cultural life. Jobs have been lost, businesses have closed, relationships have been strained, and loved ones have departed in a flash. The World bank estimates that 40 to 60 million people are being pushed into poverty globally and the world progress in eliminating extreme poverty will be set back by 3 years. Like any other epidemic, existing inequalities for women and girls and discrimination of other marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities and those in extreme poverty, have worsened. Across the world the pandemic is having serious consequences for democracy, equality, and human rights. However, this is not a time to neglect human rights;
it is a time when, more than ever, human rights are needed to navigate this crisis in a way that will allow us, as soon as possible, to focus again on achieving equitable sustainable development and sustaining peace
.

How you should be thinking…

The best mind in a crisis situation is not an anxious mind but an adapted mind. An adapted mind engages in critical thinking that helps it to answer the following questions:

  1. What is working currently?

Because a crisis situation changes the order of life and business everything starts working differently. You should be quick to notice the changes and adapt. By asking yourself what is working currently you automatically cancel everything that has stopped working thereby giving yourself a new daily focus that will not resist or frustrate you. This immediately eliminates any negative psycho-social reactions such as depression and panic attacks. It opens your mind to more ideas, thoughts and plans. In turn your environment begins to communicate only possibilities.

  1. What and where are my best opportunities created by others or myself?

While the loudest messaging you will get, mainly from media if it is a macro crisis, will be about closing opportunities you should know that new opportunities always arise in times of crisis. Having answered the first question you will notice that you are half way to identifying current opportunities. These opportunities arise from the problems that have been created by the crisis. Someone has to solve them. For the opportunity mapping process to be relevant to your needs you have to analyse how the problems that have been created are aligned to your set of skills, interests and experience. You also need to check if you can be the solution sponsor. If you can be one it means that you will end up creating opportunities for yourself and others. However if you cannot sponsor the solution you need to check for sponsors whom you can partner to bring solutions into practice by bringing any form of expertise required. Beyond being a sponsor you need to categorise the opportunities into short term and long term opportunities. Short term opportunities will likely disappear with the crisis however long term opportunities feed into the new norm

3. How do I secure the opportunity with the resources I have?

You also need to check the resources that you have that will help you to be part of the solution. These could be monetary, material, human resources, social networks and others. Its very important to work within what you have absolute access to otherwise you will fail to take off. Doing this will give you absolute control over your next steps and you will overcome with great confidence.

Time is a critical resource too and how you decide to use it is very important. Most individuals and institutions will be bogged down in never ending analyses however only those who choose to act with well calculated lighting speed are able to make the most of the crisis opportunities. This means that your scenario mapping has to be close to your lived experiences as much as possible to allow you to put in place response measures that are relevant and impactful. In the process your actions signal to the community around them of the endless possibilities thereby bringing hope and inspiration. Both are rare currencies in such situations but they are the most important in building resilience during the crisis.

How you can apply the tips practically?

The example share below is relevant to the COVID-19 situation that the world is currently faced with. I have chosen one problem to work with as shown below:

  • Problem– no access to education for learners due to school closure measures by government
  • What is working– online teaching is working best especially in urban areas where there is access to electricity, internet and financial resources. There is low chance of exposure to the contingent and i do not violate government rules.
  • Self analysis– I am a trained teacher, proficient in information technology including online learning platforms
  • Opportunities- in the short term I can offer low cost lessons on whatsapp to learners from my school. In the long term I can invest in an online learning infrastructure that can target learners from anywhere in my country. This will widen the education sector while increasing my income streams.
  • Resource mapping- I have access to a smart phone and learning materials, I have some savings enough to buy data
  • Solution sponsorship– I can sponsor the short term solution because of my skills set and available resources however i will begin to look for partners for my long term plan who have expertise in IT and more financial resources.

Conclusion

An adapted mind is your weapon and asset. Train your mind to operate in this way and become the master of your destiny in any given situation. The difference between you and those who will not make it will be your ability to adapt in this crisis and others to follow.

#16days #16thoughts Thought 2: Her Legacy

“Excuse me do you know Mistress Sanangurai, she was a teacher here in the 70s?”

I never met my mother-in-law, Ambuya Sanangurai, and beyond how she was described to me as a mother I never knew who she was, professionally. I had been told that she was a teacher but within a family set up her motherly and reproductive role tended to describe her more than anything else. Even the system then tended to play down the professional role of women to the extent that while my partner’s birth certificate mentions that his father was a teacher it does not mention that Ambuya Sanangurai was a teacher too. 

Her career began in the 60s in Zambia where she taught until after independence when she moved back with her family to Zimbabwe and resumed her teaching profession. 

Thirty-seven years later I have found myself in Zambia and the last thing I expected was someone asking me about Ambuya Sanangurai. Well, the question was asked and a conversation was had with a short, pot-bellied and white-haired man who is now a District Education Officer in the Ministry of General Education. He had known her as Mistress Sanangurai.

He sat me down and shared how his life had been impacted by my late mother in law. “She used to call all the children in the village and sit them down at her feet. There weren’t many books then so we had to share one book and if one was lucky they would get a chance to read a whole paragraph otherwise we mostly read a sentence each. This did not provide the best conditions to learn but it was all we had, she was all we had. I would not be the man I am today if she had not cared” 

As that sank deep inside me, I wondered about the other children that had sat at Mistress Sanangurai’s feet, where they were and what they were doing. I am sure their lives were impacted too. His narration impacted me as well. The man who was sitting in front of me was telling me that the small actions that women do have the power to transform the world. That their contribution is not for the here and now but for posterity.  

Most women have to justify their choice of vocation. Even in this day and age society still believes that the best place for a woman to be is home. While some women are happy to stay at home others would rather be out there changing the world through their calling. Their capacity to change the world should never be underestimated.

As I write this I not only remember Ambuya Sanangurai, I also remember Ambuya Sakala and Ambuya Chiwara my late maternal and paternal grandmothers (MHSRP), respectively,  whose contribution to society is also unmatched. The writing would not be complete if I did not mention my own dear mother(s) whose fruits are the men and women I have had the privilege of meeting in different spheres of Zimbabwean life where they do amazing work towards the development of our dear nation. 

Her legacy matters!