In my previous instalment I dealt extensively with the issues of sexual harassment. This instalment explores the “mitigatory” actions to avert or avoid sexual harassment at work. These are some of the steps a victim might consider to ameliorate the situation. In the last instalment I categorically stated that sexual harassment could either be intended or unintended.
According to statistics, one in every six women in Zimbabwe experiences sexual harassment at work on any given day. Please note this statistics refers to when our industries were still at least 50% operational. However it can still apply given most of the people are now engaged in the informal sector as well as in the small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs).
It is very important from the onset to hint that Zimbabwean laws allow workers to get help if they feel they are being sexually harassed. However, as an institute dealing with leadership and life coaching we have noticed that victims may take either a formal or informal approach in an attempt to resolve the problem.
The informal route
This would involve the victimised employee approaching the perpetrator and advising him/her that their behaviour is offensive and requesting them to stop. This may be done with the assistance of a colleague. The victim may advise the perpetrator in writing that their behaviour is unacceptable and must stop. This however poses a challenge when the perpetrator is the boss. In such a situation, the victim might request the assistance of their human resources manager in the form of mediation to facilitate an amicable solution – that is if it is not involving the human resources manager himself/herself. This brings me to yet another story by one of the ladies in my workshop the other day. She said she suffered sexual harassment at the hands of the most senior boss in the organisation. When incessant efforts to tell the boss to stop it came to naught, she decided to go through the human resources manager who was junior to the perpetrator.
As expected, the junior human resource manager developed cold feet in alerting his boss of this complaint. Therefore, the harassment continued until the lady took the matter into her own hands and caused a scene by slapping the boss hard on the face. What makes the story more interesting is the turn of events when the perpetrator turned the tables against the victim and reported an assault case against the victim –amazing is it? The whole issue then exploded into the public arena with one development leading to the other and it ended up with the human resources manager losing his job for not taking action when the issue was brought to him. Well, enough of that at the moment lest I digress. All I can say there was drama at the organisation.
The case also helps to highlight how complicated dealing with sexual harassment issues at work place can be.
The formal route
In this scenario the grievance should be lodged with the harassed employee’s immediate line manager. If the line manager is the culprit, the grievance will be routed to that manager’s senior. If the matter is not settled, or if the complainant or accused wants formal disciplinary action, an investigator can be hired to investigate the allegations sensitively and professionally by interviewing witnesses and getting written statements from them. If the allegations are serious and there are reasonable prospects of proving them on a balance of probability, the normal disciplinary procedures in respect of a formal hearing will then be followed. However, there are two options to this route; if the complainant wishes, the formal hearing will take place in camera and in private, with only the persons directly involved in attendance; and the names of the parties shall remain confidential.
Zimbabwean law allows for interdicts to be issued against perpetrators of sexual harassment and prosecution can be pursued in proven cases. The law also makes provision for holding the employer liable should they fail to appropriately address perpetrators of sexual harassment in the work place. The constitution, in the form of the bill of rights, also outlaws sexual harassment. I think our government should move a step further to promulgate a new legislation, namely “The Protection of Harassment Act” as an act of parliament.
Types of men harassers
The Macho harasser —This is a guy who makes rude comments or gestures, usually in the company of other men, to embarrass women.
The opportunist — This is the man who uses any opportunity he gets, whether at work parties or trips, to be affectionate. If you don’t reject his overtures assertively he may continue to pursue you even more vigorously in private.
The gallant guy — He is the type that pays compliments that are inappropriate, following them with a wink or leering look that makes you feel uncomfortable.
The power player — This man uses his power of being able to get you promoted or increasing your salary to get sexual favours from you.
The situational harasser — He is someone who usually harasses as a result of psychological problems or something he is going through, such a divorce, illness or hormonal imbalance. When the problem is sorted out the harassment usually stops.
Because sexual harassment causes psychological strain on the victim, they should seek professional counseling to deal with the emotional trauma and embarrassment that the situation causes. This might even affect the productivity capacity at the workplace which ultimately affects overall organisational performance and profitability. We therefore encourage and recommend victims to go for counselling, even after the situation may have been solved.
Mandeya is a certified executive leadership coach, corporate education trainer and management consultant and founder of Leadership Institute of Research and Development (LiRD). — firstname.lastname@example.org/ or email@example.com, Facebook: @lirdzim and Mobile/WhatsApp: +263 719 466 925.