Visible Invisibility: Are Men Discriminated Against at the Workplace?

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It is a well-documented and researched fact that women face certain forms of discrimination at the workplace because of their gender. However, when it comes to men, the research is not only scarce but there is little talk about discrimination against men in the workplace. Work-related discrimination occurs when two equal people are treated differently in aspects such as training, work and reward. The unwritten code in society with regard to discrimination against men enforces a culture of silence. As a result of this, there is prevalent wilful ignorance about discrimination against men in the workplace. Discrimination against men may be less frequent than discrimination against women but it is not negligible.

Men are often regarded as more competitive and aggressive according to stereotypical gender roles. For this reason, it is not unusual to find more professional demands placed upon men. Studies on such instances in Africa are rare but a study carried out in Europe in 2015 by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions found that men were more exposed to adverse working conditions such as atypical working days and longer working hours as compared to women. While most employers would argue that the exclusion of women from certain exerting tasks is a way of promoting the rights of women, this can have a detrimental effect on men.

There are increasing concerns about the mental health of men in the fast-paced world where career advancement is a pivotal part of life. Recently, there was a report about an audit firm manager who tragically met his death after jumping off the 17th floor of the building. Reports that emerged after his death revealed a working culture that was characterized by tight deadlines, long working hours and an unhealthy work-rest balance. While such a culture has an impact on both men and women, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that men are more likely commit suicide as compared to women.

Requests or provisions for parenthood are often drafted and implemented with women in mind. This makes it difficult for men to actively participate in the parenting of their children. The effect of the subtle bias can be seen in the maternity and paternity leave provisions in Kenya. The Employment Act of 2007 grants mothers three months of paid maternity leave. On the other hand, male employees get two weeks of paternity leave.  There are reports of requests made by fathers to attend school functions or to a sick child being ignored or being granted grudgingly. Some employees argue that fathers are not the primary caregivers of their children hence they do not grant them opportunities to participate in their children’s lives. Such stereotypes fail to recognize a father’s role in a child’s life and deny fathers a chance to be a part of their children’s lives. Men are also likely to be subjected to unwelcome remarks whenever they bring up child care matters in the workplace as a result of traditional stereotypes.

There are organizations seeking to change this such as Microsoft Kenya which grants its male employees six -week paternity leave. A Kenyan Company, Webtribe/Jambo Pay has adopted a compassionate  approach where they have amended their maternity clause to include what happens when there are stillbirth and death of the mum; for stillbirth they give the full 3 months and the mum is at the discretion to return to work at her will before end of the 3 months. In the case of death, then they extend the 3 month maternity period to the father and he, in turn, forfeits the 2 weeks paternity leave.

Men and women are discriminated against when seeking employment in certain sectors due to gender biases. For instance, women seeking to be employed in the construction industry have to crack several ceilings to get opportunities. There are forums in which such matters are discussed by professionals in sector and opportunities for change fronted. On the other hand, men experience discrimination when seeking opportunities in sectors that are considered the preserve of women. These include; nursing, childcare, beauty therapy among others. Such forms of discrimination go unnoticed and unreported hence they remain persistent. This promotes the gender imbalance in these sectors hence denying men an opportunity to put their talent and their potential to work in these sectors. Even with the changes in traditional occupational roles, the subtle stereotypes towards male employees in certain industries persist.

Men are not immune to sexual harassment in the workplace. Most cases of sexual harassment go unreported because of the perception that a man cannot be sexually harassed by a woman. We have come across candidates who had to quit their jobs because of sexual harassment by their colleagues or bosses. None of them had the courage to address it through formal channels so quitting was the best option. The problem is further compounded by men’s perception of what constitutes harassment. Due to poor socialization and internalization of toxic ideas about masculinity, some men brush off unwelcome sexual advances at the workplace and regard them as perfectly acceptable.

Combating discrimination against men and women at the workplace begins with an appreciation of the diversity that each gender brings to the workplace. This should be followed by a confrontation of hidden gender biases that are entrenched into the organization’s culture and policies. All the employees of the organization should be educated on gender discrimination often. Policies that address matters such sexual harassment and gender imbalance should be developed and implemented.

 

We at Crystal Recruitment make it our business to find the right talent for your company as we are a leading Recruitment Agency in Kenya. Talk to us today and let us help you find the right talent.

Putting Her in Her Place: Making the Workplace work for Working Mothers

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Ann* did not understand what her boss meant when she was warned of “wavering” commitment during the last trimester of her pregnancy. She had been an award-winning salesperson for the five years she had worked for the organization.  That month had been hard for most enterprises because of a global financial crisis. Her entire team had had a difficult time. Ann was not the only one who was struggling with clients who were barely able to keep afloat. Ann did not understand why she was the only one who got a verbal warning for her performance. When she went for her maternity leave, she had to attend meetings over pending matters in spite handing over prior to her maternity leave.

Ann’s case is just an example of the subtle microaggressions that working mothers have to put up with in Kenya. With an increasing number of women joining the workforce in Kenya, one would expect that working mothers would have a supportive working environment regardless of the industry they work in. The Employment Act of 2007 recognizes that a working mother is entitled to 90 calendar days as maternity leave. A female employee should not be asked to forfeit her annual leave in lieu of maternity leave because the Act has clear provisions for annual leave for all employees. As compared to Tanzania which only has provisions for an 84- day maternity leave if an employee has been working for an organization for at least six months, the provisions for maternity leave in Kenya apply to all mothers who have a valid employment contract in spite of the duration they have worked for an organization.

Organizations in Kenya have strived to provide supportive working environments for mothers but there are gaps that have not been fully addressed. For instance, mothers who have children with special needs or premature babies are not catered for by the provisions for maternity leave. A study carried out in 2016 by Orion Foundation showed that 91% of the caregivers of children with cerebral palsy are mothers. These mothers have to consider quitting their jobs or take on fewer responsibilities at work in order to continue taking care of their children. Similarly, mothers of premature babies often find themselves taking unpaid leave in order to continue catering for their children’s needs. The “motherhood penalty” is particularly severe for these mothers because they miss out on opportunities for career advancement or risk losing their jobs. Some of the mothers we spoke to while researching this article spoke of the difficulty of getting their bosses to give them time off to attend to a sick child. In some cases, mothers reported that they ended up being late for appointments because of the fear that has been instilled by their bosses.

The Health Bill of 2015 which was sponsored by MP Rachel Nyamai requires employers to set up nursing stations in workplaces to enable lactating mothers to express milk and store it. The implementation of the bill by organizations in the country has been slow but some progress is being made. Some of the companies that have provisions for lactating mothers as outlined in the bill include: Oserian Farm, Safaricom, National Bank of Kenya, Kenya Red Cross, Intrahealth International, PWC, Oxygene MCL, CIC Group, Liberty Life Assurance, Heritage Insurance Company, Webtribe Lt/Jambo Pay, DPO Group, Eka Hotel, Airtel Kenya and Nestle Foods, to mention but a few. Over the years, there has been an improvement in the number of mothers who exclusively breastfeed their children for six months as recommended by the World Health Organization. The National Demographic Health Survey carried out in 2015 indicated that 61% of mothers in Kenya breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. In Eastern and Southern Africa region, it is estimated that 51% of women exclusively breastfeed.  To sustain this progress, organizations who will ultimately rely on the young ones as their workforce in the future should be supportive of nursing mothers once they return to work after maternity leave.

Most working women struggle to exclusively breastfeed their children after going back to work due to lack of lactating facilities and the demands of their jobs. For this reason, there has been a proposal to increase maternity leave to 6 months, but this has not augured well with the Federation of Kenya Employers which argues that this would be counterproductive.  This provision would particularly benefit mothers who have premature babies. Premature babies have to be hospitalized for longer periods as compared to babies born at full term. By the time the mother leaves the hospital, she has very days of her maternity leave left. Most mothers end up being stressed as they try and keep up with the delicate demands of their young ones. This is compounded by the fact that most organizations do not offer flexible working arrangements.

Below are some of the steps organizations can take to make the workplace a better place for working mothers:

Identify and confront biases towards working mothers

The biases towards working mothers can be subtle but they are alive and well. It is a well-known fact that children need their mothers often but this can easily be ignored at expense of the organization’s bottom-line. These biases are supported by outdated management principles that focus on one aspect of an employee’s life at the expense of all other important aspects. An organization seeking to promote work-life balance must confront its biases towards working mothers and begin to address them

Make room for flexible work arrangements

Technology has made it possible for meetings to held using virtual platforms by people in different continents. A mother who needs to attend a sales meeting can make a phone call and conclude the sale. The changing nature of work should be embraced by all organizations for the benefit of all employees, particularly working mothers.

Support and promote working mothers

A woman does not become less competent because she is a mother. On the contrary, being a parent equips one with skills that are useful in the workplace such as empathy, ability to handle tense situations and patience.  If a promotion opens up within the organization, working mothers should have an equal opportunity for promotion.

Are you a working mother looking for a better company/organization that supports the careers of working mothers? Then do reach out to us as Crystal Recruitment Ltd is a leading recruitment agency in Kenya and we do work with amazing clients who support working mothers.