COST OF EMPLOYMENT
Over the years, while doing counseling at Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center for
HIV and supplying Supervision for Counselors, the abuse of male bosses and human
resource managers demanding sexual favors of women who are looking for employment,
has been a recurring issue during sessions. So many individual female clients have shared their
experiences of sexual harassment and abuse at the workplace, that it leads me to believe that these places
have become breeding grounds for HIV transmission. These shared experiences have not been cases of
casual sex, but rather forced unlawful cardinal knowledge that our women in the business world, have to
submit to in order to secure a position at a firm or company. It has become common enough that is has been
referred to in conversation between women as today’s “Cost of Employment”. Young or old, single or married,
whether it be for a promotion or employment, women are asked to show how much they want it.
Elita is a young female executive, who after five years of employment at a firm, applied
for a better position offered at another. Her educational background was excellent, and with her
years of experience - all backed up by her supervisor’s review - should have secured her the position easily.
However, this is what she said transpired. Elita was given an appointment at 3 pm with the human resources
officer of a well to do company. She arrived ten minutes early and was seated by his secretary. He arrived an
hour late and walked straight into his office. The secretary buzzed him and said that his 3 pm. appointment
was waiting. The secretary then, turned to Elita saying that “He will be with you in a few minutes" Twenty
minutes later, the secretary’s phone rang and she informed Elita what he was ready for the interview. Elita
rose smoothed her skirt, knocked on the inner office door, and waited for the command to enter. The
command came loudly through the door. Elita quickly glanced over at the secretary who sighed, shook her
head, roll her eyes upward and then returned to her typing. Elita was cutely told to sit down by the big man,
who then let it be known exactly how busy he was by picking up the phone to make a call. He told the other
person on the line that he was going to be too busy and that once the typing was done they should leave it
on the secretary’s desk for him to sign.
Elita, squared her shoulders and introduced herself, stood and offered her resume. She remained seated
there for another ten minutes, while he glanced through the pages. Finally he closed it and placed it on the
edge of the desk near to where she sat. As she rose to take it back, he stood up, placed his fore finger on
top of her resume holding it firmly in place. He smiled at Elita and said “This is good but I am wondering how
good YOU are?” Elita out of nervousness smiled back and asked what he meant. He said that a smart lady
could go real far with the right attitude. Elita started to explain how she worked well on projects which
involved calling on associates for their input. The human resources manager waved his hand at her, and said
that was not what he meant. It was clear to him from her resume that she was a team player.
Looking at his watch he then said it was passed knock off time and that he was tired. "Elita - he said - if
you wish to continue the interview it would have to be tomorrow". Elita asked for the time and he said that
would be up to her. This confused her very much. He said all you really need to do for a high paying job here
was for her to agree to meet him for lunch. Elita could choose the time and restaurant, he would cover the
costs and all the rest that would follow.
Elita stepped back and she clearly explained that she was not that type of team player. The human
resources manager said it was sad to hear it, because she really had a very impressive resume.
As Elita left the inner office she noticed that the secretary had already left the office and that there was a
manila envelop with the words please read in red on it. The envelop was on the desktop. She got onto a mini
bus for the ride home. The job was just too expensive for her. Once she was caught in that type of rising to
the top, she would never be able to get out again. The human resource manager would just pass her around
as them come and go as one of their office privileges. She would be the talk of the office. The Elita knew that
to accept the offer she would make herself the pathetic basis of each of the men’s jokes and the hated whore
of the office women. No position or salary was worth that price.
Elita rode home wondering how the human resource people got away with it! She then shrugged her
shoulders and though of other companies that she would apply in her next day off.
Sepiwe was a highly motivated thirty-five year old assistant manager in a publishing firm.
She was passed over for promotion several times. She should have advanced by now, because she has the
brains, the evaluations, scores, and even great reviews from her superiors to prove it!
Even though she would be the first to admit that she doesn’t have the good looks of her female colleges.
Sepiwe was still offered help in her career by many of the men in her office and firm. She chose not to go that
She says that “It is very frustrating for her to watch the “Pretty New Ones” get the promotions and positions
when it was she, herself, who they run to for help in their newly acquired positions. “I know I have the right
results; it is just that the playing field keeps being changed to accommodate the “Accommodating Ones”. “I
do not trust my fellow office women very much these days”. “Especially when I know the truth about what
they are up to on their long lunch breaks!” There are days when some of the bosses stare at the women in
the office like they are undressing them with their eyes. Some of the women seem to enjoy it. It makes me
Mahongo just graduated the top of her class in economics at the University. She spent the
last four months going from one job interview to the next with no employment to show for it. It seemed that
everyone wanted a more experienced woman. Funds at home were running completely out. As each day
passed with rejection and failure, she began to panic and lost hope of finding a way for supporting her family
who paid for her education. She finally accepted the sexual advances of one human resources officers, who
promised her a good paying position. Mahongo met with him for lunch at a secluded guest house outside the
city. After lunch he took her into a pre-reserved room, where he aggressively forced her into sexual acts, and
left her on the bed while her body continued to spasm in pain.
The human resources manager quickly dressed himself, told Mahongo to do the same, but rather than walk
out with him, she was to meet him at the vehicle in the lot.
They drove back to the city in silence. Mahongo shifted her weight in the passenger seat to find comfort.
As the city grew on the horizon, he stopped on the road and told Mahongo to get out and that she could
catch a bus from were they where. She got out of the vehicle and walked to his driver’s side window.
Standing there with her hand clasping her blouse top closed, she ask when she should come for work. He
told her the following Monday. Mahongo then asked him what position she would be starting work at. The
human resource manager said that she could start with any of the positions she interviewed for today, even
though she was inexperienced at them, but would learn in time. He looked her in the eyes and laughed at
Mahongo. He sat up straight in the vehicle and spate out “We don’t hire whores at our firm!” He drove off
leaving her with out bus fare and infected with syphilis.
Lutti, is the forty-two year old widow and mother of three. Her husband died of AIDS two
years ago. Lutti, herself is HIV positive. The children thank God are not! She dropped by one day visually
upset. She had been hired by a large company a year after her husband died. Before she got that job, she
and her children were reduced to begging from family, friends, and strangers to make ends meet.
Needless to say, her securing employment was a God send. However Lutti was here to talk about a
problem that had kept her awake at night for the past weeks.
She had gotten her job by promising to have sex with her boss. He did not bother her until this past month.
Now he wanted sex with her twice a week or more at work. Two days ago the condom they were using broke
completely. Lutti was now fearful that her boss could have been infected and if he finds out she would fire her.
She knew that she should inform him of her status but was afraid of losing her job. So here she was, asking
about risk factors and how to get him to come in anc check himself without blaming her. I asked Lutti if she
knew his status before she started to have sex with him. Lutti responded that she hoped he was safe and
since they always used a condom nothing could happen to them.
Lutti felt guilty, but not guilty enough to endanger the job that put food on the table for her children! If she
stops then who knows if she will be able to keep her job? She shared with me the fact that because of the
attitude of male bosses about women who worked for them, Lutti could never return to the work force until her
husband passed on. She just could not be unfaithful to him. However where is the food going to come from
now that he is gone for good? Who is going to pay the school fees?
The list can go on and on. The one factor that does not change is that the practice of bosses
offering work positions only to women willing to have sex with them is not going to go away
without a fight from all of us. It is worth the fight if we are to have a just hiring system. What type of
world are we creating for our children to live in? A world where honest work and achievements
are accepted as the way to gain employment and advancement in it? Or a world were abusive
individuals can use their positions of power to reduce others to economic slavery, freely
demeaning any and all they choose to.