How corporate SA has ghosted me because I spoke out about sexual harassment
It has been 22 months since I went public about my experience of sexual harassment in the workplace. I did so for moral and ethical reasons. Despite the difficulties I have since faced, I would do it again.
From everything I’ve read about women like me, the consensus is clear: going public about sexual harassment in the workplace is a career-ender. As one study bluntly states: “Sexual harassment has been identified as one of the most damaging and ubiquitous barriers to career success.”
The costs of speaking out have been high with respect to my career prospects. I am struggling to accept this. What happened to me should never happen to any woman in the workplace. Despite the recognition and numerous messages of goodwill and support I have received, and efforts to empower women in the workplace, the reality is that since going public my career does not match up with these niceties. I now find myself in an extraordinarily difficult position: chances are that I won’t get hired anywhere in corporate SA.
What happened to me was not my fault, and despite the odds being overwhelmingly against me I am not prepared to give up my career. I am a forensics specialist with more than 10 years’ experience. I have four law degrees. I have graduate degrees from Cambridge and Oxford. I am in the final months of my PhD in law at the University of Cape Town. I am a certified fraud investigator and a certified anti-money-laundering specialist.
Yet despite completing countless job applications and engaging recruiters, reaching out to old bosses, potential employers and contacts in my professional network, and handwriting and delivering letters to major corporate CEOs, I have hit a wall. Discrimination and retaliation against women who have complained about sexual harassment is unlawful, in addition to it being ethically and morally shameful.
Proving that women like myself are overlooked in job applications because of that history is difficult. I have watched numerous public relations videos, read statements released by company executives and seen photos of men in the workplace observing nine minutes of silence to protest against the gender-based violence that gripped our nation during 2019. And I have realised it is all meaningless.
In the last 15 months I have not been invited to any formal interviews. Where I have been invited to exploratory discussions, at which I volunteered information about my experience, I have been ghosted. Even with appropriately timed follow-ups there were many who went silent and never responded.
Corporate SA does not appear to have the courage to challenge the culture of victim shaming and blaming, with the result that women like me will never find work after going public. Isn’t it time for business to be on the right side of the issues by removing barriers to employment and challenging myths and stigmas associated with women like me? Will they ever stop being afraid of me?
My career will likely never be the same. Chances are high that I will not be let back in. But my situation should not have to be the same for the many other women in the workplace who are reluctant to come forward out of fear of retaliation and the adverse consequences I am now suffering. The economic power companies hold defines the lives of women and the values and prevailing attitudes in our society, which should do more to protect women like me, and in doing so shift the balance of power between perpetrators of workplace sexual harassment and their victims.
Keeping women like me out does not make sexual harassment go away, or achieve progress in broader efforts to protect women in the workplace, because most perpetrators are likely to remain in employment. They are the ones corporate SA should be afraid of.
• Singh, a former director of Grant Thornton, reached an undisclosed settlement with the firm after resigning over sexual harassment.