Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Posted by | June 28, 2020 | blog

Sexual harassment at Workplace

Whenever the discussion on sexual harassment in the workplace erupts, the first thoughts that come to minds of many are: men are the perpetrators, men are the culprits etc. But this may not be totally correct. Sexual harassment is a non-gender violence because a male employee can sexually harass a female employee and a female employee can sexually harass a male employee. Also a male employee can sexually harass a male co-worker and a female employee can sexually harass a female co-worker.

To properly grasp the topic, let us first understand what sexual harassment is. Sexual harassment is an “unwelcome physical, verbal or unverbal conduct of sexual nature”. It is described as when an employee continuously make unwelcome sexual advances, requesting for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature to another employee against his or her wishes.

Sexual harassment “occurs when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individuals’ work performances or creates an intimidating, hostile, offensive and toxic work environment”.

Note that harassers could be Supervisors, Managers or co-workers.

What constitutes Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

  • Demand or request for sexual favours by either gender
  • Remarks designed to cause offence
  • Intrusive questions or speculations about your sex-life
  • Sexually explicit jokes (e.g you look sexy)
  • When a Superior implies an employee must sleep with him/ her to keep his/ her job;
  • SMS, email etc to a co-worker containing sexually explicit language and jokes
  • Demeaning comments about a male or female staff
  • Belittling and referring to staff sexist or demeaning terms
  • Posting sexually explicit jokes on an office internet bulletin board
  • Behaviours capable of creating an intimidating, hostile or humiliating work environment

You must know that incidences involving pinches, fondling, touching or more extreme physical threats of a co-worker, against his/ her wish are criminal offences and should be reported to the appropriate authority.

Many cases of sexual harassment abound. The most recent one at hand is that of Abiola Oke, CEO/ Publisher of Indie Music website, OkayPlayer and OkayAfrica, an online hip-hop and alternative music website community founded in New York, USA in 1987 – a website that focuses on African culture, politics and music. Recently women went online to narrate their ordeals, accusing him of inapproriate behavior, serially exploiting Black women, and creating a toxic work environment. He has had to resign his appointment and the Management of the Company has come out in strong terms condemning the actions with a promise to investigate the matter.

Again on June 3, 2020, Kelechi Udoagwu, writer and tech entrepreneur in her reaction to one of the trending hashtags, #JusticeForUwa, mentioned her experience. She claims she was sexually harassed by Kendall Ananyi, CEO, Tizeti Network Limited.

In the tweet, Udoagwu gave sketchy details of Ananyi’s alleged abuse against her a few years ago in a mentorship session during her time at MEST, an African-focused entrepreneurship training and incubator program.

Her statement has since ignited different reactions from various quarters of the online community and the African tech space, most of which either empathised with her, condemned the act, or demanded a comment from the accused.

On the same day, MEST made a comment condemning the act and expressed its intention to investigate the matter.

A lot of women are enmeshed in sexual harassment cases but have found it extremely difficult to speak-out because of what they term “the dire consequences”.

Another is the case of former Senator Don Meredith (Canada) who resigned in May 2017 over series of controversies resulting from the revelation that he had sexually harassed his female employees and had had sexual relationship with a teenager while in officer.

Hear Senator Sabi Marwar’s statement on Thursday June 25, 2020:

“Workplace harassment of any kind is unacceptable. It has no place in the Senate of Canada. We have heard the experiences in the office of former Senator Don Meredith, and most importantly we believe””

The Canadian Senate has promised to hire an independent evaluator who will determine “a financial award for the employees impacted by the misconduct of Mr Meredith”.

Susan Faludi in her book, “Backlass: The Undeclared War Against American Women” posits that male hostility towards their female counterpart in the workplace is a function of male attitude or perception about the proper role of men in the society and concludes that women’s pursuit for economic equality with men was being felt as a serious threat to their (men) traditional roles.

In view of the foregoing, it is believed that men invent means to exploit the presence of women in the workplace, making sexual advances and favours, using threats as an instrument, arm-twisting them (females) to submission, to keep their jobs and avoid demotions or such.

There is no gainsaying it, in our world today, women are more prone to be victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. This is partly because most times they are at disadvantaged positions having no powers, vulnerable and insecure.

Research indicates that one out of every ten (10) women are raped or sexually abused in their life times and, half of women living with men have also experienced battery or similar indecent incidence of domestic violence.

Causes of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

  • Women delving into male dominated professions
  • Indecent dressing in the workplace
  • Influx of women into the labour market
  • Dwindling purchasing powers occasioned by poor performing economies globally as many families cannot make ends meet
  • Single-parenting forcing women to be head of families
  • Men seeing the presence of women in the workplace as an opportunity for exploit

How to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace:

  • Effect appropriate dress culture in the workplace
  • Keep close watch and monitor employees
  • Train all employees  (top to bottom)
  • Adopt clear sexual harassment policies
  • Take all complaints seriously
  • Good legal system to prosecute offenders

In its continued efforts, Nigeria Chapter of the International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) has urged the Federal Government to urgently ratify the International Labour Convention No. 190 on Violence and Harassment as it provides a “framework to prevent, remedy and eliminate violence and harassment in workplaces including gender-based violence and harassment”.

Sexual harassment claim can only be instituted or made if the incidence(s) occurred in the course of employment or in a work-related environment.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is highly condemable because of its multiple and attendant effects on the life of the Company – breeds disrespect and lawlessness within the system, causes low productivity, low morale, dwindles the corporate image etc.

This write-up was contributed by Agolo Uzorka Eugene, CEO/ Lead Consultant, Eugene + George Consulting Limited (www.eugenegeorgeconsulting.com)

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Agolo Uzorka Eugene
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