“I think what we are referring to is a very small group of people,” says Robert Yawe, CEO of Synaptech. “And I think we need to address their problem as unique problems and not a general issue with men,” he continues. There does tend to be quite a generalization of issues in society, where one side of the seesaw tips higher than the other.
Though to whom does the responsibility belong, to balance that scale and return the equilibrium if not the collective? For change of conversation to progress there also must be change of action. The sooner these unique problems are addressed the sooner we can tackle the seeming and seeping normalization of harassment in the workplace, thus eradicating its generalization.
In chimes our moderator Linda Obonyo, Founder of Lawyer’s Hub, “Men and women are culpable, anyone can be an aggressor and anyone can be a victim. Francis, what’s the economic impact on an organization and what are some other effects on it?” Francis Mwangi, IT Manager at Twiga Foods.
“When you are in a toxic environment, where harassment is going on, people don’t feel free to exert themselves and give their best because they are afraid of losing their jobs and of the repercussions of saying No,” responds Francis Mwangi, IT Manager at Twiga Foods. This can affect the organization because without the individual collaboration working at its finest, how can a company move in any positive direction? The more efficient the workforce, the more productive the company.
This can also taint the image of the organisation, in that “as it carries on under wraps, in the long run it affects organizations outlook from the outside, it may deter people from applying to work at the company if they hear about what goes on internally,” he explains further. This is only quite a logical move on their part in any case as, no one would be entirely comfortable to work in an environment where they feel privy to and powerless in the face of, their private space being violated. You may lose a good crop of talent, and when that happens “you don’t have the best people to steer the organization in the direction you’d like it to move to,” he adds.
It also introduces a culture within the organization whereby others feel as though they can get away with immoral acts so “proper policies and structures need to be put in place to curb this kind of harassment,” he concludes.
Linda then introduces a call to action from the audience as she poses, “What do you do when you’re being harassed?” Peris Bosire, CEO of FarmDrive answers. “One of the things we could do as employees is reach out to someone,” she says. Peris touches of asking about the HR policies and company Code of Conduct before you sign your employee contract. “This should outline the reporting mechanisms that are in place within the company, follow them and report any form of harassment,” she continues.
“Get evidence and document everything. If someone is sending you lewd photos or they begin to harass you, make sure you have it printed out and attached to the report you’re going to give out,” she advises further. In the case that this doesn’t seem viable or if the case is more complicated then, “you can resign and claim for damages. It’s a longer process and it involves the legal system but I assure you it works,” Peris adds comfortingly.
Robert agrees with Peris and adds that “organizations need to put in place systems that allow Anonymous Reporting. With technology today, if someone is sending you graphic and inappropriate messages, you should have a way to send those to management without you being exposed. Thus, their number is visible and yours stays anonymous.” This is a key solution that tackles the problem of fear when it comes to reporting. This exposes the aggressors within the organization and their misconduct can be dealt with accordingly.
“If you don’t deal with it, chances are it can and will escalate,” he continues. This much is also true. In terms of inadvertent policing of behavior, if an aggressor knows that there is a way to be exposed, then they will less likely to act immorally, for fear of consequence, if not for change of heart. “We also need a similar platform for the larger nation in a way, a larger platform to be able to share that information,” he adds.
Francis concludes this segment with an assertion that technology is in our side. “The DCI has an avenue where you can make a report and as entities, organizations need to be able to set up whistle-blowing platforms,” he concludes.
There are also apps like Kitestring which use inaction to inspire action. The user sends a message to the application of their whereabouts and the app sets a time frame to check on the recipient and if the user doesn’t respond within that stipulated time, it sends a distress message to their emergency contacts that they may be in danger. Nirbhaya is also another useful app that uses a single-click distress signal to alert emergency contacts in case of any danger.
On par with these apps is bSafe, which uses technology to ensure safety especially in acts of violence and harassment. The app allows voice activation which creates an SOS alarm/alert without having to physically touch the screen, therefore if your phone is in your bag or pocket, the alert can still be activated. The app also incorporates ‘Guardians” who are your emergency contacts to which, a user can add as many as they like. This is key because the app allows live streaming your locations and surroundings whenever the SOS alert is on, as well as automatic recordings that document the situation for proof of evidence, especially in the case of a legal matter.
Additionally, the app allows a ‘Fake Call’ feature which gets your phone to call you so that you can bow out of situations that feel threatening or unsafe. Lastly, the app allows your Guardians to ‘Follow You’ live through GPS location if you feel as though you are in a situation whereby you have to be careful in case of anything.
And thus, through effective and informative conversations that centre around this subject, the tonalities it imposes, the repercussions that are served and the solutions that are brought to light, the Elephant in the Room is ushered out and its antidote, administered. The more we can speak about it, the more we can deconstruct these ideals in place that affect women, men and the overall organizational construct. This is in hope of a future that supports and motivates the workforce, instead of exploits and causes it to cower in fear.
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