Please, I implore you, let’s take a visual journey. It’s a nice Monday out, you’re on your way to work and there’s no traffic at all. The workday goes swell, Mark from Accounting didn’t corner you in the hallway to once again drone on about fixing his C200 Benz and your supervisor floated by the idea of a possible promotion. On your way back home, you think, “What a great day.” The sun is shining and it’s quite a nice drive. When you reach the door, it’s slightly open. In you go, and out your heart jumps, you’ve been invaded.
The invasive and personal feeling of imagining someone having rummaged through your belongings and valuables, taken some and left others, when you were extremely unaware is not only traumatizing but impossible to shake off. Now one step further, imagine it as your own body, your own physical space and privacy. The unspoken right of life which is, I have my own body and you have yours.
The conversation around sexual harassment is one that transcends matters of the workplace and yet is actively propagated in that very environment as well as externally. Thus, we sit as the silent audience but active thinkers in this intricate and sensitive panel session, around the subject and it’s tied to women in the workspace as well as society at large. So hold on for the ride as we introduce the unspoken into the outrightly spoken.
We have the founder of the Lawyer’s Hub, Linda Obonyo, who “feels right at home” as we discuss women who are looking to disrupt their industries and co-create an environment that is untouched by gender bias ideation. Linda as the moderator gets right down to the basics of, “What is harassment, what are the types and what can we do?”, she inquires, providing an astute introduction into this riveting panel.”…and why is it important to our panellists?” turning the spotlight onto the speakers.
Francis Mwangi, IT Manager at Twiga Foods, is “glad to be here” as the topic resonates with him because of, “…what I have observed within various places I’ve been privileged to work in and also some of the experiences I have personally undergone.” he says.
Peris Bosire, Counsellor at FarmDrive is the only female panellist and has a story that many women, sadly share and can relate to. “From personal experience, I am a survivor of harassment in the workplace,” she says. “I believe in fine-tuning workplace policies so that we can create a safe and secure work space,” she continues.
This then leads to the segue of reporting and the sensitivity around this subject. “When we talk about the elephant in the room, we talk about harassment kept under wraps and leave out the details. Victim shaming can be a result of speaking up,” Linda begins. This is quite true, society’s view on the matter is extremely wide and controversial. Victim shaming is one of the ideals that instigate that the victim was at fault for the occurrence that endured, completely taking the shine from the aggressor who aggravated the situation itself. “Peris, if you don’t mind, what was your experience in regard to this?” she implores.
“I have a couple of experience that have varied,” she says. And goes on to tell the story of an invasive incident at one of her first places of work, with a male boss who took an inappropriate liking to her, would indirectly propagate advances and at work and who orchestrated a situation unbeknownst to Peris, whereby he would attempt to take advantage of her in a car. “He went on to grab me and I had luckily unlocked the car door and I basically threw myself on to the road, and literally ran for my life.”
As one can imagine, she reported and consequently resigned. “I got a lawyer and the unfortunate thing is that I didn’t have any evidence.” This is a key part of the investigation within these circumstances. One can beg to differ that evidence can also be circumstantial and this doesn’t negate the occurrence that took part because of no physical evidence. But, within legality and ethics, it’s a key part in order to be able to place the face and name of the aggressor for any action to be taken.
“I was told I needed to pay the company in lieu of resignation. I luckily had a friend in CID who helped me settle the matter out of court and my aggressor ended up paying me for the damages caused instead of me paying the company for my own grievance,” she concludes. A brave admittance, that I am sure the audience could relate and sympathise with. Linda, on everyone’s behalf, thanked and commemorated Peris for being able to share her story.
This case, like many others, investigates the matter of reporting and documenting behaviour that especially intuitively, feels invasive. To speak about it, in the early stages and to follow one’s intuition can be key in perhaps coaxing harassment from under the bed. There are cases whereby women have had to record their supervisors or bosses at work in order to have evidence of harassment and sadly even in those cases, it may not be enough.
“Robert, men can be viewed as aggressors in this particular case, what do you think about harassment in the context of innovation?”, Linda shoots at Robert Yawe, CEO of Synaptech.
“Predators exist out there, across different areas and professions,” he opens. “…I find it very negative and it has definitely affected women in tech,” Robert says. He encourages and motivates women to “…learn how to shout.” To speak up and out can be difficult, terrifying and even re-triggering but it’s integral in bringing these key issues to light and the awareness around them to be heeded with the attention they deserve.
“Reach out, like Peris did, to her friend who I am glad aided her. Reach out to anyone who can be of authority to help and ask for help from men around you, who you know you can turn to,” he explains. Which is a viable and appreciative aspect of society, the side of men who aren’t aggressors and in fact stand with women in their lead and light to fight the harassment that dilutes the work environment and seeps into societal norms. Or could this be the other way around?
It is quite a key component in ushering women and giving them the space to voice their concerns and report their grievances. As well as also entreating society to embody and produce the space where these concerns and grievances are taken with the earnestness they require because both must go together. Without a lending ear, spoken words can go unheard. After all, if a tree falls in the forest and no one was there to hear it, did it make a sound?
This is but just an introduction and the first part of a three-part series to this riveting and extensive HerNovation panel.
See you on Wednesday for the second part of this piece.
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