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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Claire is the only woman working in a sales team of 10. The team is considered successful with sales figures exceeding targets each month. Its a friendly team with jokes and banter shared amongst the group.

Claire feels uncomfortable about some of the behaviour some men portray - in particular the sexist comments made about female staff members from other departments. The comments are often derogatory - ”She could do with losing weight, she has big tits, her bum looks big today, I wonder what she is like in bed”. The staff members are not aware of these comments made of them.

Although the team treat Claire with courtesy, she feels extremely awkward when some of the men would gather around a desk making sexist comments of the images in FHM and other men’s magazines. They would often invite her to partake in these discussions. Some of the men have images ofJordansemi naked as a screen saver.

Claire loves her job, especially interacting with the customers and her sales figures are in the top three. She has excellent rapport with the team, however feels she is treated as ‘one of the lads’. She is often introduced as one of the top three ‘Salesmen’ in our team. Claire resents that the men do not recognise her gender.

Her manager feels she is taking this too personally as the men do enjoy working with her.

A survey conducted by insurance firm Hiscox suggests that staff laugh at sexist and racist jokes, and think nothing of participating in sexual banter. A poll of almost 800 managers and staff revealed an ‘alarming disregard’ for office behaviour. Hiscox said its study found that two-thirds of workers swear while more than one in three laughs at sexual innuendo, or regularly hears jokes of a racist or sexist nature.

Even though most organisations have policies, and lets say Hiscox report is even partially correct, there would seem to be a big gap between having these carefully consulted policies and implementing into practice.

Unacceptable behaviour in the workplace is only likely to be stopped if staff clearly believe that such conduct will be punished. No employer would hesitate to take steps against an employee who took money from the till.

Fundamentally should there be a difference in organisations taking action between an employee exposing their employer to financial risk to potentially causing undue distress to their colleagues?

Points for consideration:
• Inappropriate workplace banter may expose employers to liability for harassment.
• Liability may arise under the various forms of anti-discrimination legislation and the Protection from Harassment Act.
• Prevention requires not just the existence of Dignity at Work polices but a clearly expressed intent to enforce them.
• Employers that become liable for acts of harassment may consider passing on the liability to the worker for whose acts they have been found liable.

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’- Maya Angelou

“To behave with dignity is nothing less than to allow others to freely be themselves” - Sol Chaneles

See http://essenceofequality.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/18/

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Comments

Celine's picture

Sexist Law

Dear Monica,

Your story of Claire is indication of what women face in the hands of sexist men every where. In Nigeria, women face these embarrassing comments in buses, on the streets, in cinemas, in drinking places! No matter how a woman tries to live herself in dignity, men don't see her as individual that should be accorded some respect. The situation is worse in single ladies. Is there any law in your country that protects women from sexists?

Cheers,
Celine

Monica Clarke's picture

Sex and the law

Thanks for your response, Celine. I did not personally write this story, but thought I would quote it (see http://essenceofequality.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/18/).

Oh how I wish that laws against sexist remarks could be passed so that each person who opens their gob against women in a negative way could be punished! The closest we have come is laws against discrimination and harrassment. In the workplace we do have a few more labour laws protecting us - but then the employers themselves perpetuate cultures of sexual harrassment against women.

We shall keep speaking up and saying STOP, though, won't we?

Love from Monica in France

Monica Clarke, Writer & Storyteller, bringing human rights alive.
I wish you 'Nangamso', that is: May you continue to do the good work which you do so well.
(A blessing from my ancestors, the Khoikhoi, the first people of South Africa).

Akech's picture

Hello Monica, I have read

Hello Monica,

I have read your profile and i am impressed by your great zeal. Your story is a realistic vow that has stemmed from traditions and i believe it will take a generation to clear that mindset.
Thank you for sharing this story
Best Regards
Monica :)

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Monica Clarke's picture

Monica, pretty Monica, how

Monica, pretty Monica, how proud I am to share your name. And wow! It has taken me 67 years to get to know the meaning of my name. Thank you, oh wise one.

Together we shall continue to be inquisitive.

Thanks so much for writing to me.

Love you.

Monica Clarke, Writer & Storyteller, bringing human rights alive.
I wish you 'Nangamso', that is: May you continue to do the good work which you do so well.
(A blessing from my ancestors, the Khoikhoi, the first people of South Africa).

Akech's picture

You are so sweet and lovely.

You are so sweet and lovely. Thank you for the kind words. And yes, together we shall continue being inquisitive. 67 years! WOW. what is the secret to long life? Women's advocacy? :).

Your language is really good, one word has a lot of English words attached to it, so easy to learn. Is it the same language spoken in the movie 'The gods must be crazy?'

I wish you nangamso too. In swahili, they would say, Nakutakia Kila la heri ( I wish you all the best in all)

With love from Uganda, Monica.

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Greengirl's picture

When others tell theirs and

When others tell theirs and we listen, we hear our stories in theirs………………… between 2003 and early 2004, I had to quit three apparently lucrative jobs in sequence. Reasons, Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct which created an intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment for me. Of course, there was no effective employer complaint mechanism or grievance system in place against an employer/ superior. The societal perception about a female victim did not help matters either! I resolved never to allow myself fall victim again. At that point I knew it was time to delve into my childhood dream of working for positive social change. I resolved to equip myself well enough and now I also support other women to take charge of issues that affect our lives. I am glad I quit as I am now finding more fulfillment working for positive social change.
Thank you for sharing Claire's story because for the very first time since those experiences, I am speaking up freely and openly for the sake of Womanhood!

Appreciatively,

Olanike

Monica Clarke's picture

Utta girl!

Thanks for sharing, Olanike. You are a shining light. Did not Madiba (Nelson Mandela) say "Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you"!

May you go from strength to strength and let our traditional men stand up and take notice.

Love to you from Monica in France

Monica Clarke, Writer & Storyteller, bringing human rights alive.
I wish you 'Nangamso', that is: May you continue to do the good work which you do so well.
(A blessing from my ancestors, the Khoikhoi, the first people of South Africa).

MaduRathnayaka's picture

It's everywhere!

Dear Monica,

Actually this is a problem faced by most of the women everywhere in the world, and I'm speaking against it in my country. The most ugly side of it is even the women who are the victims do not talk against this. When this goes towards physical harassment and asking for sexual favor the women become more helpless. They want to protect their job as well as the character.
In universities also this is practiced highly. Some don's and also the male students behave in opportunistic ways while degrading the girls.
We want to make the women strong and act against this.

Best of Luck with you!
Madu

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