Have you ever lost an opportunity you deserved for reasons that you felt were subjective? What was your reaction? Did you protest? On the flipside, what favours have you gained unfairly?
Subjectivity occurs at all levels of our daily lives – it is in how we are treated in the bus, during a job interview, even in comments made by colleagues and friends in our day-to-day interactions.
Sometimes subjectivity is unconscious, other times it is obvious, while most of the time it occurs only as nuances that are hard to notice.
This begs two questions: are we often too lax to notice prejudice or do we simply overlook unfair acts
and remarks as long as they do not affect us directly? What kind of biases are you subjected to everyday?
REUBEN GIKA, 28
“I had applied for a driver’s job at a local community-based organisation in Kariobangi estate in Nairobi in 2017. I had hoped that this opportunity would bring me closer to community service, which I am passionate about.
I had worked with a number of organisations before in the same capacity, therefore, I felt I could do a good job.
Besides that, I had done my homework well, therefore I saw myself as the frontrunner.
An insider later told me that the organisation had decided to offer the job to someone else who was less experienced.
She told me that I was eliminated because the organisation could not afford to pay me. According to her, the CBO planned to convince the other candidate to take less pay.
I felt betrayed because the subject of my pay had not featured anywhere during the entire process.
I had offered myself for the job to serve my community and to earn a living in the process.
In another case, I missed out on a job just because I was not married. A top hotel in Nairobi was recruiting drivers, and when I stated that I was single, I was rejected.
The manager bluntly told me that they did not hire bachelors. There is a misconception that married men are more responsible.
I believe what matters is competence and the right set of values to hack the job.
Whether someone has a family or not should not be the measure of suitability. After all, there are many married men who are irresponsible.
I am not sexist, but I believe women are favoured in most cases. If a man and a woman applied for a front office job for instance, the woman will more likely be hired even if the two have similar competencies.
This is one of the scenarios that we traditionally regard as ‘normal’, but which in reality is a propagation of bias.
If women can perform ‘men’s jobs’ then men can equally perform jobs perceived to belong to women.”
RAY MARIA, 27
“After completing my diploma in hospitality in 2013, I wanted to build a career in hospitality management in the hotel and catering industry. I got an opportunity to intern with the front office department of a five-star hotel in Nairobi. This was a big deal for me because I hoped to gain more experience and become financially independent.
After submitting my résumé and even passing the interview, I was rejected because at 20 years, the management thought I was too young for the critical job. This was not helped by the fact that I had a petite frame at the time. It was hard to convince them that I was up to the task.
This experience made me insecure about my size.
I Later, I got a job as a front desk clerk at a private hospital, not because of my size, but because I was qualified and possessed the right personality and appeal. Through this job, I met and interacted with many people who helped to boost my esteem and build my skills in public relations.
I still encounter snide remarks about my size from time to time, but I have learnt to appreciate my body. Whenever people say mean things about my body, I tell them off.
From experience, we are treated by others based on how we believe we deserve to be treated. If you give others room to mistreat you, they will do it. The other reason bias thrives is because we do not speak up against it when we witness it. We are not keen enough to take action where it does not concern us directly. Is it fair to simply watch without doing anything when someone harasses your neighbour and puts them down?
Such an attitude does not make us any better than the subjective person. It only perpetuates this despicable behaviour of taking advantage of people’s helplessness. As a stylist and makeup artist, I rarely get unfairly treated at work because I am my own boss, there exists mutual respect between me and my clients, however, should I sense condescending behaviour from any of my customers, I do not hesitate to let them know that it is unacceptable.”
PETER MAGOMA, 22
“My worst experience to date occurred in 2018 when I applied for a job at a production company. They wanted someone to do a photography project for them.
The recruitment process involved three stages, two of which were online-based, where candidates were expected to pitch and submit their works. The last stage was a one-on-one interview.
I went through the first two stages effortlessly. On the day of the interview, I showed up at the company’s offices, confident about clearing the last hurdle and getting the job. The job was important to me because I needed school fees. The interview was going well until one of the directors told me that even though I was the ideal candidate for the job, he disliked my hairstyle, an afro. As unbelievable as it sounds, I was denied that job because someone did not like my hairstyle.
This was a turning point in my life. I even trimmed my hair and have not kept long hair since, even though I felt I was unjustly disqualified yet I had met all the requirements for the job.
A second incident comes to mind. A friend had applied for a job as a voice over artist at an ad agency.
He auditioned by sending in an audio recording, was shortlisted and invited for an interview.
This friend is very short, and some of the panellists during the interview had the audacity to make sarcastic comments about his height, comments that my friend ignored. Thankfully, one of the interviewers focused on his qualifications, and he got the job. He ended up performing beyond everyone’s expectations.
Pray, what role does height play if the job you’re being interviewed for is behind-the-scenes, such as a voice over job?”
BRENDA KAHURA, 23
“In my line of work, fairness does not apply all the time. It is a space where the players are as selective as they are brutal.
When I began to model, I lost an opportunity to work with a certain agency I had wanted to sign up with just because of my skin colour.
My opponent beat me to the opening because her skin tone was fairer than mine.
I was more qualified in the other parameters the judges were assessing, but I still lost. I was furious, but after similar subsequent incidents, I appreciated that this is just the way the industry operates.
While people tend to think that physical attributes play a negligible role during selection for jobs, the reality is very different. “Beauty bias” is actually very prevalent. And it is unfairly used as a stepping stone to some careers.
Women considered good-looking also perform better in sales. I know this because I once worked at a motor showroom, where I observed that some male customers would buy a vehicle from you if they considered you attractive. They would end up becoming your loyal and regular customers. Business owners know that employing beautiful women drives the sales.
I am a believer in equality for all, and believe that your competency is what should open up opportunities for you. Someone who has invested time and resources to gain skills and knowledge in an area deserves opportunities in that area more than another who has only looks to offer, besides, you do not choose the type of body or skin are born in, yet some modelling agencies demand a certain height and complexion. You may be very passionate about a career in modelling, but if your skin colour is dark or brown, the chance will slip through your fingers.
I think the society has set somewhat subjective standards and created an erroneous notion around light-skinned women.
These are regarded as more charismatic and confident. This bias often makes dark-skinned women desperate and compels some to bleach their skin to keep up with the accepted standards of beauty.
Would I favour some people at the expense of others? Of course. If I have something to gain from that, why not?
We are compelled to do certain things or behave in a certain manner due to the prevailing socioeconomic circumstances. The higher the stakes, the more biased we are likely to be. That’s just how the world is.”
CHEBET KIPINGOR, 24,
“There is so much bias in public transport. Sometimes I am allowed to pay my bus fare through mobile money, but when a man attempts that, he is usually told off for not having cash and sometimes even ejected from the matatu.
Some buses (nganyas) admit only young people. Older people and those with luggage are barred from boarding.
This is subjective. But this bias is not only in public transport, it is also in hotels and restaurants. It is disturbing to walk into a restaurant and be treated as a lesser patron.
Some hotels in Nairobi give preferential attention to white people, while local patrons are offered lukewarm treatment.
There are eateries where a white person will walk in after you and be served immediately as you continue waiting to be attended to. In most cases, the service will be sluggish and less friendly.
My friends and I once went to a certain restaurant in Parklands for lunch. We did not know that the hotel exclusively admitted patrons of Asian descent. We sat and waited to be attended to but no one came over to our table to take our orders. Eventually, we got up and walked out.
Certain renowned night clubs in Nairobi treat African women revellers unfairly.
Before you get into the club, you are thoroughly searched and even asked to produce your ID while they empty your handbag.
This happens as your male colleagues and white women freely walk in. Some of these establishments don’t allow women in if they do not have male company.
They always erroneously suspect that women on their own are up to no good. Women are also expected to dress skimpily.
While all establishments reserve the right to admission, it does not make sense to apply double standards for customers.
This is not all. I am a mother. Whenever I went for prenatal visits, the nurses would ask me invasive questions such as where my husband was.
I felt offended, it was as if they wanted to make me feel guilty about my decision to bring up my child alone.
To promote maternal health, doctors must treat young mothers with dignity and professionalism.
My view is that only vulnerable people such as expectant mothers, the elderly and the sick, deserve preferential treatment in public places. Everyone else should be treated the same.
In the professional world, opportunities should go to those who qualify.”