According to INC Magazine, workplace sexual harassment still affects 54% of working women. It would also be wise to assume that of the remaining 46% polled, a significant number are women who like countless other men and LGBTQ+ plus individuals, would rather hand in their notice of resignation than risk the consequences of handing in an official complaint of workplace sexual harassment. This is despite the sad fact that most of us have either experienced workplace sexual abuse ourselves or know of someone who has experienced workplace sexual abuse - and yet still the taboo of workplace sexual harassment lingers like a bad smell.
So let's break the taboo and talk workplace sexual harassment
Put as simply as possible, workplace sexual harassment is the unwanted sexual advances, jokes and behavior of one individual to another in a workplace. Usually the sexual harassment is between colleagues but it can also be between staff and non-staff alike such as customers and contractors.
The harassment is beyond workplace laughs and often makes the victim feel powerless to raise a complaint with their superiors.
While most of us are familiar with the stereotypical image of workplace sexual harassment as physical groping, touching and pinching, there are still far too many who fail to appreciate the sheer scope of what actually constitutes workplace sexual harassment. Yes there is the physical factor of workplace sexual harassment but there is also a much less appreciated mental factor. Examples can include but are not limited to, the leering colleague in the corner of the office making sexual gestures or the random gifts left on your desk with strange post it notes, the inappropriate emails and text messages received from someone you were merely polite too in the lift and odd phone calls and bizarre house calls made by individuals when there is no 'work' basis to do so.
Then there is the power play that often underpins workplace sexual harassment. In a post #MeToo era it is sometimes easy to forget that throughout the world in every industry there are examples of employees being sexually harassed by their superiors in their workplace. Examples can include managers abusing their own position and power to withhold promotion of the victim unless the victim responds in kind to their sexually harassing behavior. We know that this toxic 'coercive control' often forces the victim to make a wholly false choice, choosing to withhold their complaint and advance their career by succumbing to the harassing behavior. This is dangerous and oftentimes leads to untended consequences such as rape.
There is also the psychology of peer pressure at the heart of many examples of workplace sexual harassment. For instance, many times the victim of sexual harassment will feel compelled to brush off the inappropriate sexual comments for fear of being ostracised by other colleagues as being 'prudish' or unable to 'take a joke'. Often this leads the victim to internalize trauma as a result of the harassment which can force them out of work due to stress and also, crucially, make them feel ashamed to raise a complaint.
So how can workplace sexual harassment be prevented from happening?
The simple answer is to have a robust anti-sexual harassment culture thriving in each workplace. And what is more, this culture must be founded on solid anti-sexual harassment company policies that echo both state and federal law. If a workplace achieves this and has a proactive anti-sexual harassment culture and systems in place, then it makes sense that any sexual harassment detected will naturally be dealt with at the earliest opportunity. Furthermore as a result of the successful anti-sexual harassment culture and systems, senior leaders within that workplace will have the confidence and the requirement to implement in their entirety disciplinary and dismissal sanctions against perpetrators of sexual harassment, and also victims will have the confidence to step forward and submit their complaint knowing that their complaint will be taken seriously.
If you work for, own or run a company that you feel needs further advice and support about how best to deal with workplace sexual harassment, then follow this link to EasyLlama.com. We are a modern online training platform with the expert advice and knowledge that you will need to stamp out sexual harassment in your workplace for good.