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.
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