Difficult Conversations in the Workplace: Creating Sexual Harassment Policies that Matter

  Sylvie Waitumbi wrote this on
October 25, 2017 | No Comments

Stephany Zoo of Phoenix Risen addressing the panellists and attendees about sexual harassment issues in the workplace

Difficult conversations in the workplace event held at J’s Fresh bar & and Kitchen

Stories of sexual harassment has been rampant in the news in the recent months, with infamous cases headlining with big names – Uber, Harvey Weinstein, etc.

On October 12th, Phoenix Risen and Duma Works sat down with a group of Human Resources professionals from a range of companies across Nairobi, big and small, corporate and nonprofit, to discuss how to address sexual harassment and prevent these incidents in the workplace. We not only focused on comprehensive sexual harassment policies, but also how to better implement them to create safe spaces at work.

Cultural background

 The takeaways from this workshop pinpoint the key issues that makeup the overall problem of sexual harassment as a first step to prevention of these incidents. The workshop strived to answer the tough questions. What are the underlying factors of sexual harassment? The group brainstormed that socio-cultural constraints limit the attention sexual harassment cases are given. Kenyan culture intrinsically celebrates power of men over women, but at what point do you we draw the line between “bad culture” and “good culture”? This stifles female voices that might try to condemn sexual harassment while sex-related discussions are frowned upon in highly Christian society.
Attendees addressing issues raised to them

Difficulties with policy implementation

Another crucial factor is power balance in the workplace. Nearly all sexual harassment perpetrators are in upper-management, whereas victims tend to be low or middle-level employees. When news of an alleged sexual harassment incident reaches HR, they might enable inappropriate behaviour when weighing what the company has to lose if they choose to investigate. On one side of the scale is a top company executive and on the other side is an employee low in the hierarchy. “What is the easiest way out? Do we back the victim and face a PR nightmare or are we going to turn a blind eye and save the company a lump sum?” The justification of cost-benefit analysis in this case is used as cognitive dissonance to make unethical choices.  As HR professionals, we need to uphold such basic human decency.

 Because many startups also joined the conversation, their biggest concern was that often times in smaller companies, HR is more of an operational and hiring role, everything else comes second.  They don’t necessary have the background to create such policies, and have even fewer resources to enforce them.  A couple of participants suggested that we create a third party body that sits outside of entrepreneurs, startups, and investors to manage such issues in the industry.

 When creating our sexual harassment policies we must also take into account the stipulations of the Kenyan law.  Even though it only requires companies with 20 and above to have a sexual harassment policy, we recommend that you create one from the get-go as this sets a tone for good culture, inclusion, and fairness in your workplace.
We hope that good sexual harassment policy and implementation procedures take into account these obstacles and make the reporting process easier, transparent, and action-oriented.  Please reach out if we can help you create or implement your sexual harassment policies!

Stay tuned for more events from Duma Works by following our Facebook Page or by signing up for our events listserv here.

Our Panellists William Ogalo and Agnes Mutua ,with Stephany and Arielle (CEO of Duma Works)

 Happy Hiring!

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