“I think harassment has come a long way from pre-covid, when we were all physically in the office,” opens Francis Mwangi, IT Manager at Twiga Foods. He then goes on to relay a story that many have heard of, orchestrated or unwillingly endured. The story of exploitation through positions of authority to gain or obtain some end-result or benefit. The demand for sexual favors in exchange for an advancement in your career. It’s not unheard of that in many situations, both men and women have and do participate within this field in order to gain the benefits that come with a promotion, income, or special favors, in order to get ahead.
So when does it veer into the world of harassment? Well, it must be looked at through the eyes of consent. It may not be ethically right or even morally just, but the deepest layer of this cake is in the consent of it all. Is it a conscious choice she is making or is it an obligation that must be performed in order to get from Point A to Point B? The person in power may be the one who gets to call the shots but in the eyes of the law, consent is consent.
“These were two very good friends of mine and they would share their grievances, the case always centred around, ‘It’s my word, against his’, and he was the owner of the company at that time,” he explains. Like many in this situation, his colleagues felt helpless and at their wits end when it came to reporting an authority figure trying to sexually exploit and take advantage of them, in order for them to succeed.
“If you look at where we are currently, working from home, harassment comes in the form of cyber-crime,” he continues. This much true. The digital world isn’t exempt from harassment. Cyber-bullying, doxing, revenge porn and defamation are some of the examples that stem from harassment that doesn’t always take the physical form but materializes through the online spectrum.
There is a positive side though, “…if it happens online, it’s easy to document and it’s important to talk about it,” Francis says. On par with this advice, was the inclusion of the mindset to carry in these situations, especially in regard to women entering the tech space which is currently a male dominated field. “You are already disadvantaged if your mindset is based around feeling as if you deserve, or don’t belong to be in this space,” he reiterates. Ushering women to stand in their right to belong in an industry which they can not only thrive in but add valuable quality to.
Linda Obonyo, Founder of the Lawyer’s Hub and our moderator, then throws a spanner in the works with a question aimed at switching gears and redirecting the arrow, to point at women who aggravate situations of harassment. “Why are women the aggressors in some situations? We can be those who harass fellow women at work or online, why do we get to this point?” she asks.
Peris Bosire, Counsellor at FarmDrive befittingly answers the question first, “as the only woman in the panel” and offers various viewpoint as to how such a situation may come about. She admits that, “the problem can’t be looked at in isolation” and in many ways, “women play a multiplicity of roles”, such as being primary care-givers and “are more vulnerable to psychological, physical and emotional abuse at home that might play a role in how she operates at work.” she says.
Peris also floated by the ideation of Boys Club at the workplace. “There is a kind of hand holding that men do for one another and have conversations that may take place at after-work hangouts such as at the bar, that center around company matters,” she says. The engagement and conversations that encompass changes in the company or new ideas and that are usually occurring during down time. “Down time conversations that have an impact on the organization are taking place after work hours,” she continues. This is directly tied to the multiplicity of roles that she brought out before which makes it difficult to stay back and engage in after work conversations, when she may have several duties to tend to at home.
Peris understands that the situation is debatable but she brings out the idea of “whether there is really equity at work” in terms “equal opportunities for men and women to engage, you find that the more informal engagements which inform decision-making at 8-5 are happening in a space that I cannot participate in,” she concludes.
Linda pulls a question from the audience and aims it at CEO of Synaptech, Robert Yawe. “Why can’t men handle a ‘No’ and why should there be repercussions to somebody saying ‘No’ to your advances?” active attendee and audience member Veronica asks.
“90% of men can handle a ‘No’, maybe we have been assuming that women aren’t in positions of power and authority,” he begins. Robert brings out an astute point which is, men who have grown up in a home with sisters, female relatives and who have mothers, have learnt to balance issues, conduct themselves accordingly and can differentiate from right and wrong when it comes to women’s personal space. Simply because they wouldn’t want to imagine that the women in that they know and love in and around their homes, could be subject to the harassment of another male, and can apply this kind of empathy to other women as well. “This intolerance is something that men are picking up later in life,” he states.
He also touches on the Boys Club ideal that Peris had introduced by specifying that, “90% of conversations at the bar have nothing to do with work even if it includes the same people from work,” he admits. He explains that the discussions center around men and their personal lives, where conversations regarding sexual harassment may come in, but in a more so, casual context. “You’re sitting with your boss and he is speaking about how he took advantage of a female employee and to you it seems like it may be the norm because as a young professional you are in conversation with your senior,” he explains further. The senior may bring out certain ideals that are offensive and derogatory to women and “that’s where we need to solve the problem from” says Robert.
Robert believes that the objectification of women to the extreme that they are subject to sexual and physical harassment and the tight-lipped normalization of it is the root of the problem. “For any man who is married, has a daughter, a sister or even just a mother, which means all men, knows and should be able to diffuse such conversations, it is the beginning of the way forward,” he concludes. Thus bringing a close to the second part of this extensively interesting panel discussion which floats by the abuse and position of power in regard to harassment. The play of power in harassment seems to be a huge case and it implores those in a higher position to curb their exploitative ways and those subject to the repercussions to use the power of their voices to stamp out this kind of normalization.
Join me on Friday for part 3/3 of this article, as we bring the panel a close, the conversation to a steaming boil then hushed simmer, the speakers to their last striking points and the audience to be left with much to ponder on.
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