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Silicon Cape head calls on local startups to include sexual harassment in HR policy

Startups should include a sexual harassment policy in their human resources strategy, or as part of the letter of appointments for all staff including the founder whether female or male, says Silicon Cape managing director Ellen Fischat.

“Sexual harassments policies start with human resources. Considering that startups often do not have structured human resources practices in place, it leaves room for unprofessional conduct and abuse of power towards women,” said Fischat. “Anyone in a powerful position has no right to abuse a situation in exchange for sexual favours.”

The head of the Cape Town’s tech organisation was commenting following the series of sexual harassment scandals that have rocked Silicon Valley of late.

While she said she is not aware of any “explicit” harassment issues locally, she urged women who find themselves in situations where they suspect they are being harassed to seek the advice of an experienced psychologist or counsellor for guidance on handling the issue.

‘Considering that startups often do not have structured human resources practices in place, it leaves room for sexual harassment towards women’

She said both physical abuse or subtle advancements can constitute sexual harassment. “It can happen in the workplace, at networking sessions or any other social situation like over drinks after hours, sometimes even during daytime coffee sessions,” she said.

Typically, she said, sexual harassment involves obscene remarks made towards mainly women and unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favours.

“This type of conduct is unreasonable and unacceptable as it puts women in compromising situations where the basis for their decisions directly impacts employment, careers, work environment and industry standing.”

In tackling sexual harassment in the tech sector she said it is important to talk about the topic more.

“Let’s engage in conversations and generate a broad awareness of potential compromising situations so that both men and women can be more empowered to conduct their relationships in a principled, professional manner rather than on a quid pro quo personal favour exchange,” she said.

Asked by Ventureburn what Silicon Cape is doing to address the issue she pointed out that the organisation is open to engage in the topic through conversations with experts and increasing awareness.

“I would also urge incubators to engage with the topic and get their startups to consider a harassment policy as part of the HR pack and also make their investors aware that they are against sexual harassment,” she added.

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