LOUD WHISPERS: The List

I am a big fan of the American drama series Scandal.  Shonda Rhimes, the brilliant writer and producer of Scandal, is well known for using her shows to run a commentary on social and political issues. Ms Rhimes is so revered by ABC studios where she has produced shows which include Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and How to get Away with Murder for many years, that there is a whole prime time evening dedicated to her shows called, ‘Thank God It’s Thursday’ (TGIT).

The most recent episode of Scandal was called The List, and it is about a secret list of young women who work in political circles in Washington DC. The list provides elaborate details of which young woman is willing to be ‘flexible’ with the powerful male figures who are their bosses.  The flexible ones get promotions and glowing references. The ‘inflexible’ ones are blacklisted and their chances of advancement in the political world become very slim. One of the ‘inflexible’ girls found herself on a blacklist, so she committed suicide. This prompted an investigation which unearthed the unscrupulous men behind ‘The List’, and it also enabled other victims to come forward. The episode was obviously inspired by the global #MeTooCampaign which seeks to draw attention to cultures of predatory behaviour across all industries and public work spaces.

Last week there was an alarming piece of information circulating online involving a major telecommunications company in Nigeria. The information was a memo terminating the appointment of several female staff members ‘because of their marital status’. There are two versions of the internal memo in circulation. An affected staff member leaked the termination letter she received via a third party. The ‘original’ leaked memo states the reason for termination as ‘due to marital status’. Not surprisingly the second version does not state a reason for the mass terminations. Since information is still being gathered on the case with a view to seeking redress at this brazen injustice, I will not go into the specifics of the case for now. Regardless of the outcome, the reaction to these allegations has created an opportunity for an open conversation about corporate life and its role in the exploitation and abuse of women.

Sexual harassment and exploitation is of course a global phenomenon. An actual ‘List’ might not exist for real in Washington DC, but women in the workplace know that every woman finds herself on such a list at one point or the other, even if it is just a metaphorical one. Apparently the telecommunications company in question have a real ‘List’. The list probably contained names of women who would refuse to work late hours, were ‘rude to customers’, did not meet their targets, got to work late, used up all their annual leave and ‘did not get on with their bosses’. The women all had one thing in common – they are all married women. Let us assume all these women joined this now famous company 5-8 years ago. Back then they were ‘useful’ because they were single, with no husbands or small children to worry about, so they could work long hours and travel at short or no notice. Such flexibility allows for advancement in the workplace.  The young women are rewarded with perks and promotions and thus we have a cycle of hard work, rewards, loyalty and productivity.  Then life happens. The smart, ambitious young women get married as is their choice and right, they start families and they begin to reprioritise. Unfortunately, women are usually not allowed to do this without paying a price. All of a sudden this group of hitherto hardworking and committed professionals get labelled as problematic. They have become ‘inflexible’. They are no longer ‘useful’ to engage in flirting with male high net worth investors or clients. They are no longer available to be used as bait. So they are now on a ‘useless’ list.

The open secret of the young women used by commercial banks is a good example of the exploitation of women in the workplace. One day my young female accounts officer called me in tears. Her bosses had just called her into a meeting and told her that if she did not get 400 million Naira (almost a million dollars) as deposits within the next two months her job would be at risk.  I was appalled. Where and how was she supposed to raise that kind of money? They obviously did not care. I told my young friend to arrange a meeting between me and her bosses. At the meeting I told them in very diplomatic but firm language that the harassment of my officer should stop. I promised to put in a good word for them with some key people but if my officer was adversely affected in any way, not only would I close all my accounts I would do it very loudly. They got the message and my officer stayed on till she left of her own accord a few years later for a postgraduate program.

We need to revisit our labour laws, human resource policies and grievance procedures in all our public institutions. Discrimination against women and abuse of their fundamental human rights is institutionalised. Even when there are clear references to non – discrimination in our constitution and laws, the lived experiences of women are another story altogether. Some of these discriminatory practices are either a carry over from antiquated colonial laws or a fall out from our local cultures which still frame women as having little or no business outside of the home.

The women who succeed against all odds do so not because they have manipulated the system but because they had to work even harder than the men they went to school or worked with. For every woman who takes the short cut to success there are 1,000 others who pay their dues, so the narrative that all successful women use ‘bottom power’ is not a credible one. It is because the corporate workplace can be such a difficult space for women that some men use this as an excuse to exert pressure on their wives and insist that they should either not work at all or take less demanding jobs in the civil service. Women should not be forced to give up work they enjoy for fear of being called bad wives or mothers.  Granted, women (and men) have to make sacrifices and adjustments especially when there are children involved (I have had my fair share) but these should be done as informed not forced choices.

Let all women who have experienced harassment or discrimination in the work place speak up. The ‘List’ is real. It is not in our imagination. It is not a cover up for our inadequacies, incompetence or laziness. Right now, there is a nervous young accounts officer somewhere having lunch with a male client and wondering how she will get out of his suggestion that they go ‘upstairs’ so that they can ‘talk freely’. She has to choose between being ‘flexible’ or ‘inflexible’. She is someone’s wife, daughter, sister or even mother. This is injustice. She should not have to make any such choice. Let us all work together, women and men so that these ‘lists’ can go to where the sun never shines. As for the local telecommunications company, I hope their aggrieved female staff take them to the cleaners and teach them an ‘Unlimited’ lesson they will not forget in a hurry. Have a great week.

 

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

 

 

 

 

 

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17 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: The List

  1. Femi Diipo March 19, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    How true. I was recently having a conversation with a female friend who had been jobless since she finished NYSC and all the men that had proposed to help have all made sexual advances. It’s really not that much an easy world for women especially at the working place and it is up to us all to change this.

    Reply
  2. Dom Dom March 19, 2018 at 9:13 pm

    I think women deserve to be lauded for the extra effort they put in to remain relevant and competitive with colleagues at working places despite all the other responsibilities that nature has casted on them like pregnancy, childbirth and several others. Men really should all learn to appreciate women better and seek to support them rather than being manipulative and exploitative. And yes let everyone who has been victimized speak out,its time to really fight against this so called List

    Reply
  3. DSEED March 20, 2018 at 12:30 am

    This has been a great issue that need an urgent attention. Its need to be addressed. This is one of the reason I resigned from my place of work this very last month. Have been observing that what brings people out of the company is when they get married most especially ladies. Once you are married by default you are planning to resign, because once you are pregnant your service is no longer needed. So I see to it that there is no future with the job then I resign to make myself relevant where with or without pregnancy am still useful. I believe women can’t bring the change all alone expect our men suppose us to fight against this discrimination.

    Reply
  4. Ini Matilda March 20, 2018 at 3:36 am

    Thank you for speaking about this ma’am. This list thing is real, I left my banking job when I was told to raise a kinda money I knew would take years to raise even after the so called bosses gave me clues on how to ‘market’. I told them that I cannot market that way and I had to resign. The list is real, women face a lot in some of these organizations.

    Reply
  5. Lauretta Idemudia March 20, 2018 at 3:38 am

    We have suffered for too long. We have also kept mute for too long. My problem is, this issue should be a proper case in Nigeria. We know how this system pardons the guilty because they know the way around the law and the innocent is faced to dance in shame. We should have a serious backup for women in workplace and let justice be true to her cause.

    Reply
  6. Shina Dideolu March 20, 2018 at 3:41 am

    I also follow this TV series and I will say, when I saw that episode it brought a lot of discussion in my head. Thanks for sharing this ma and thank God for this movement. This movement that is helping women to have solid voice, this movement that is making us own what we have without being used as preys. I wish we would take the cases of women seriously in this nation and help heal a lot of women who have been exploited and are still being exploited in their workplace.

    Reply
  7. Olushola Aderanti March 20, 2018 at 3:53 am

    Everywoman is hardworking. She wants to do more for herself and when these ‘dog men’ see a woman with drive, they want to kill her drive, push her till she has nothing to give. The time is up for women to take charge, speak up and get these ‘dog men’ chained and beaten! Thanks for sharing ma.

    Reply
  8. Victor Udoh March 20, 2018 at 9:48 am

    Wow. The struggles women go through is endless, the society has made them suffer a whole lot. I hope this movement lasts forever so the generation of women coming will have it easy and smooth.

    Reply
  9. Olakunle Olajide March 20, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    I just hope this menace would seize to exist. This happens a lot. Why should the women be fired because they are married? What of the married men? This is a shame to the telecommunication company. I wish they can be used as scapegoats.
    Have lovely week everyone.

    Reply
  10. Foluke Adams March 21, 2018 at 10:51 am

    I read here on one of the stories about how Lesotho female soldiers were forced to terminate their pregnancies and then got fired for getting married. This is a global surge that must be cleansed. Women should be happy to be who they are and the rest of the world should be made to accept it.

    Reply
  11. Shawn Daniels March 21, 2018 at 10:54 am

    The case of women being genuinely free starts from a proper infrastructure for women. We cannot start a fight without proper infrastructure especially for systems in Africa. We need to have a structure for these women when they speak, we must put the law in the perspective of right justice and freedom We must start from the home and stop preferential sentiments. Let the woman be indeed free to live her life and enjoy her work.

    Reply
  12. Solomon Nkechi March 21, 2018 at 10:58 am

    I am happy this was written here, we need to get people to speak up! Marketing is one job that breaks the back of women in Nigeria,they are asked to meet targets desperately. I am happy you stood up for the woman and this is wakeup call for everywoman to stand up for their woman and speak against injustice and maltreatment.

    Reply
  13. Nkiru Chukuwemeka March 21, 2018 at 11:07 am

    I am an ardent follower of this blog but I just had to write today because this story resonates with me. I left my job when the pressure was too much and the so-called HR couldn’t do anything being a woman because she has also gone to bed with the boss and didn’t expect me to shy away from it either. So, I am glad that we saying this here and seriously, we need a proper system, a proper structure that will fight for the rights of women.

    Reply
  14. Olubunmi Oladele March 21, 2018 at 11:10 am

    The price women pay for growth in some organizations is enormous and I can say that because I have done that. When I got married I had to hide the whole process and disguise like a unmarried woman just to get what I was pursuing from the system. It took me two years to disclose my new status but guess what? They wanted to deal with me but I stood firm and scattered their plans too. Now, I allow serious women either married or unmarried to find their path and climb the lather in ease.

    Reply
  15. Remilekun Anderson March 23, 2018 at 3:44 am

    But we must not also forget that there’s bottom power too. Some women just flaunt to be hardworking when in actual fact, there are not.

    Reply
  16. veronica Imaseun March 23, 2018 at 3:46 am

    Now, the telecommunications company is denying it o. They said they didn’t do such. I don’t know if this is image protection or the truth. But the price women pay in companies growth cannot be overestimated.

    Reply
  17. Eric Onuoha March 26, 2018 at 9:23 am

    This is really an appalling situation. I remember where I once worked. My then boss, a woman, told one of her subordinate, “If you don’t make N10 million today don’t bother coming back to this office”. When she told me, we were wondering how that would be possible.
    Someone told me that at his place of work, any sales lady that refuses advances from the boss, will be given a target that looks impossible and also be threatened with loss of job.
    It is unpleasant. We need good labour laws in this country

    Reply

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