Every week, Culture Custodian talks to Nigerians who share tidbits about their lives. This time, we have four women telling us about their worst work experiences:
Working in this company was my worst nightmare. My boss was a serial sexual abuser and the company was so broke we’d go months without any salaries.
The sexual abuse part was so crazy. There’s hardly any female staff who has worked in this company without stories of when my boss tried to abuse them. We had a little group chat where we discussed tactics on how to avoid being in the same space with him for too long. We would make sure our phones were locked at all times because he could pick up our phone and go through your hidden messages. He would call you into his office under the guise of working on a project and try to feel you up. He would make sure you drank enough at the office TGIF parties then offer to take you home so he could feel you up in his car. It was hard, putting up a front of feminism online and to other people and going through sexual assault in your own workplace.
Why didn’t I leave? I needed the salary (that wasn’t even coming frequently).
I’ve had countless experiences with toxic workplaces in Nigeria. There’s this boss I had who used to go into the room I worked in and throw my reports on the floor calling them rubbish, or saying that my ideas are stupid. That wasn’t even the worst part. Almost every day he complained that my work clothes weren’t tight enough, or he’d come to my desk and tell me that I’m beautiful so he’s going to pay for me to do a photo shoot in a bikini. He’d say that northern women act innocent but deep down we love sex and add that he once dated this northern woman who used to show up at his house naked under her hijab. Once I went into his office and he asked me to turn around so he could see my bum. It was endless. I worked for this guy for 2 months but after I quit I was so traumatised that I took a break from working for a whole year. He now poses as a feminist ally on Twitter.
I had another superior at another job during my NYSC year who called me into his office to let me know that he wanted to have sex with me but I’d have to wait because he was having sex with too many corpers in the office at that time. He wasn’t my direct boss so I blocked his number and tried to avoid him after that but whenever we ran into each other he asked why I wasn’t responding to his texts.
Nothing was ever resolved in either of these scenarios because I never reported them. It would have actually been pointless to do so during my NYSC year because I remember HR calling a meeting with all the corpers to slut-shame us, saying they knew we were having sex with managers and some nonsense about how that made us less desirable for marriage. They didn’t seem like they would have been on my side if I reported anything. I just never felt safe enough to report superiors for this reason. I wasn’t confident that anything would be done about it. There are really no systems in place to avoid this kind of thing in the places I have worked at.
My most recent boss was this narcissistic woman who made my life a living hell. HR knew about it and they were even present in the meeting where she blasted me so much for no reason that I literally started weeping with catarrh coming out of my nose. She wasn’t criticising my work at all, and in fact, regularly praised my work, she was just being demeaning to make an example out of me. HR didn’t do anything to stop it and in fact, even instigated it.
I got to work one day and greeted everyone as usual and I noticed my manager didn’t answer me. At that moment, I assumed he was in a Skype meeting or whatever. It continued like this for a couple more weeks. Some days I’d get the occasional head nod or “Mmm” but he wouldn’t look up to fully acknowledge me. It was like “Take your greeting and go”, so I stopped greeting him. The part that annoyed me the most was when he’d dismissively answer any questions I had or snap at me to come back and then I’d have to ask someone else. Fast forward to my year end review, he asked if I had any feedback for him. I didn’t say anything because abeg, who giving negative feedback to your oga epp? He kept on asking if I was sure I had nothing to say. I finally told him that for a couple of months now, he had been dismissive and snapping at me for no reason and I didn’t understand why or what I had done. He looked at me with confusion and said “What you did ke? Why would I not answer you?” He then said “Boya nigba ti emi ati iyawo mi n ja” (maybe my wife and I were fighting) and then apologised.
I had always thought of myself as the kind of employee that most employers would be glad to have so I never would have imagined myself experiencing and enduring workplace toxicity. I joined this organisation where everything went well for the most part as I joined the organisation based on the recommendation of one of the Directors at the time. I’d also had a prior albeit brief stint at the organization so I had no doubt about the place because of the pleasant experience I had.
Fast forward to when I joined the organization and one of the more reasonable and humane Directors resigned- we began to see that terrible part of the organisation and the other directors that had been hidden all along. It was not like everything was all rosy before then, but it became pronounced after that Director left. One of the Directors who was the second in command bullied and rubbished the work of one of my colleagues so much so that it affected his self-esteem. I encouraged him and helped him through the healing process.
I had no issue with the Directors and I had never gotten any query for my work even while they were terrorising others. I supported and spoke well of the Directors to my colleagues till I experienced my own share of the problem.
I hate office politics and I prefer to let my work speak for me. It was too late into the process when I found out that you have to be close to the Managing Director, feed him with information about your colleagues and show off your work to him to make him see that you’re working which sometimes could imply going over your direct supervisors to him. Because I wasn’t doing this, the Managing Director never really liked me which I didn’t mind because I thought doing my job and delivering results was the priority. I noticed he was always harder on me when I made little mistakes. He also said some nasty words to me which I didn’t really take to heart.
During the latter part of my second year at the office, the MD suddenly became more aggressive towards me. To the surprise of my colleagues and one of the Directors I report to, I was issued two queries in the space of one week, for something so minute and inconsequential. I thought it was a joke until I was summoned to a disciplinary panel for insubordination (this word still feels weird). I was suspended for two weeks and I resumed my duties hoping to start on a clean slate. I tried to be as pleasant as possible and show that I didn’t really take it to heart.
One of my colleagues who was leaving at the time felt I was treated unjustly and gave her honest feedback to the MD. I didn’t even know about this until I left. I guess this fuelled the MD’s anger towards me to the extent, that he couldn’t stand being around me. I was traumatised by the remaining time I spent in that organisation. I was paranoid about making mistakes and it started to affect my productivity. They were expecting a legal battle after I left but I chose peace and God has been so faithful to me. I am happy and content with where I am which is why I believe no one should choose to endure a toxic workplace. You definitely deserve better.