By Anja Uitdehaag

 “I am not your dog that you whistle for; I’m not a stray animal you call over, and I am not, I never have been, nor will I ever be, your “baby”!” – Joy Jennings

According to the Trades Union Congress report, Still just a bit of banter? Sexual harassment in the workplace in 2016, more than half (52%) of women and nearly two-thirds (63%) of young women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Out of these, four out of five (79%) said that they did not report it to their employer.

Sexual harassment includes any unwelcome:

  • Physical contact and advances;
  • Demand or request for sexual favors;
  • Sexually colored remarks;
  • Display of pornography;
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

It is rude, demeaning behavior and is usually about the abuse of power.

Workplace sexual harassment is often a difficult issue to tackle. Some women do not report the incident because they are embarrassed, think they will not be taken seriously, or believe it would damage their career prospects. Other women fear the company will ignore the conduct or characterize it as nothing more than just a joke.

The role of the employer:

 Let’s be clear: sexual harassment at work is unlawful.

Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from harassment. Managers are liable for sexual harassment between co-workers if they knew or should have known about it and took no steps to stop it.

The only way to rid your workplace of sexual harassment is to build a company culture that makes it taboo.

A responsible employer regularly trains management and staff on what’s considered sexual harassment, how to prevent it and how to stop it when it occurs.

The establishment of confidential, victim-centric mechanisms through which internal complaints can be received and managed is essential. This gives targets of sexual harassment confidence their complaints will be dealt with in an adequate manner.

 What can you do?

 If you’re being harassed, don’t blame yourself. People who harass or bully can be very manipulative. They are often good at blaming the other person – and even at making victims blame themselves. But no one has the right to sexually harass or bully anyone else, no matter what. There is no such thing as “asking for it.”

 If you are receiving unwanted attention in the form of sexual harassment from a male (or female) colleague you need to address the situation directly:

  1. It often can be helpful to start by telling the person doing the harassing to stop. Let him or her know that this behavior is not OK with you. Be firm. You can say something like, “You are making me feel uncomfortable, please stop.
  2. It is worth documenting the behavior so that you have a record of each instance. If your colleague persists in his behavior, you should inform him that you are keeping a record and will report the matter if he continues.
  3. It may be helpful to have someone to talk to about the situation. There’s no doubt it can feel embarrassing to talk about sexual harassment at first. But that uncomfortable feeling quickly wears off after a minute or so of the conversation. In most cases, telling someone leads to faster results and fewer problems down the line, so it’s worth it.
  4. If you cannot resolve the issue alone, take the next step, which is usually to inform HR; they are trained to deal with these issues sensitively and can advise you of the organization’s policy and the next steps. You may also want to tell your line manager at this time.

Key messages:

  • It is important to speak up if you feel that you (or others) are being harassed at work. This not only stops the perpetrators in their tracks but also establishes a role model for others to follow. Call out inappropriate behavior as it happens.
  • Any company, large or small, should ensure that an unhealthy or unethical culture does not go unnoticed. A culture where unlawful behavior is eradicated wherever possible and where employees speak against it early because they are well trained and supported will thrive.


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