Sexual Harassment is not a topic that is talked about very openly. Too often, victims of sexual harassment have to hear phrases such as “You were asking for it”, or “You are lying, you are doing it for the attention”, or other victim-shaming phrases. Moreover, the common misconception that only women can be victims to sexual harassment and assault is unfortunately still prevailing. This leads to victims not speaking up, in the fear of not being helped or even being made fun of. Especially in the workplace, sexual harassment is more common than one might think: Even when one only takes into account cases of sexual harassment that were openly admitted during a survey, 31% of female workers report that they had been harassed at work. More importantly, 62% of the targets took no action against it (Sexual Harassment Practice Group of Outten & Golden LLP, 2010).
A first step to change this, is to inform employees about what sexual harassment actually is. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2014), it is defined as „Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.“
Now what can you, as an employee do, if you feel like you are being sexually harassed? Here are a few key issues to keep in mind: (Sexual Harassment Practice Group of Outten & Golden LLP, 2010)
1) Don’t ignore it
Ignoring the harassment can actually make the harasser engage even stronger in the behavior. Find the courage to speak up!
2) Explicitly communicate to the harasser, that his/her behaviour is not welcome
This is an important point. Often the victim might seem like he/she enjoyed the advances, or even reponded to them. But this does not mean that the behaviour was welcome. Reciprocating the advances could be caused by fear, by shame, or just because the victim does not know how to adequately respond. Yet, the advances can STILL be unwelcome. In case a legal dispute is caused, it is important that the victim has somehow made clear to the harasser, that the advances were unwelcome.
3) Inform yourself
It depends on the state you live in, the company you work with, and the specific circumstances of the situation, whether a behaviour can be classified as sexual harassment. It differs from a case to case basis. If you are unsure, it is advisable to get advice in the form of a lawyer before you do anything else.
4) Keep a list about what happened and when it did happen
This is important to have as a proof.
5) Report the harassment
Hereby you ensure that your company is aware of what is happening and can do something against it. It is useful to firstly inform yourself about the company’s rules and regulations when it comes to sexual harassment. Often information about this can be found in the company’s Code of Ethics.
6) Human Resource Department
Keep in mind, that the Human Resource Department in the end has the best interest oft he company in mind, and not yours. Moreover, they are usually not forced to keep information confidential, and can share your complaint with anyone in the company.
What can you do to prevent such situations as an employer? Make sure that from the beginning on, you explicitly state how the company deals with sexual harassment and what your attitude towards it is. Do NOT ignore the topic.
Lastly, I would like to speak from a more general perspective. All of us have the potential to reach far in life, and to climb the hierarchical ladder oft he business world. I have no doubt, that some of us will end up at the very top. With a higher position in the hierarchy also comes legitimate power (Robbins & Judge, 2013). It is well-known, that power can corrupt. It can turn once ethical and thoughtful individuals into corrupt power politicians. We can, and should, all work together to create a friendlier, less corrupt, less sexist, and more sustainable work environment, where the focus is not only put on numbers, but also on the environment we live in, as well as the well-being of the people. When we go on with our lives, we should all keep the values we want to stand for in mind. Sexual harassment is an example of something that might not seem too „bad“, or too big of an issue to many, but it can have a big impact on the victims of it. Therefore, speak up when you see something or become a victim of it yourself, and make sure to do your best to create a friendly and supporting work environment, wherever each of you may end up in the future.
Robbins, S. P.; Judge, T. A. (2013). Organisational Behaviour (15th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson/ Prentice Hall.
Sexual Harassment Practice Group of Outten & Golden LLP. (2010). Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Retrieved on the 25th of April, 2014 from http://www.workharassment.net/index.php/sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace.html
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (25th. 04 2014). Facts About Sexual Harassment. Retrieved on the 25th of April, 2014 from http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm