It has, arguably, reached a point where sexual harassment has become so common to the point that some people don’t even realize when they are victims. Infact, many may argue that sexual harassment hasn’t gone away, but rather, it has taken on new forms.
It has been reported that about one in three women report that they’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace. 38% said the harassment came from a male boss. More than 70%, however, did not report their abuse.
I came across an unpleasant testimonial, which many women share, unfortunately. A young woman took an internship-type role at a company, where as time went by, she received frequent flirtatious and unwelcome comments about, how sexy she looked when she dressed a certain way. It reached a point she saw boundaries being crossed, but like most women, she felt powerless to do anything about it.
One day, a male colleague, senior to her, came to her cubicle and grabbed her butt uninvited. In any other context, she would’ve slapped him. But she couldn’t imagine slapping someone at work, all she could think about was how could he feel entitled to touch her like that? She felt powerless, replaceable, she even blamed herself. This story caught my attention because I’ve had a handful of female friends who’ve faced sexual harassment from their bosses.
What Is Sexual Harassment? Simply put, it is unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
Furthermore, this immoral 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.
What does sexual harassment look like in real life? Here are several examples of behaviour or incidents that, if unwelcome, could constitute sexual harassment in the workplace.
• Comments about someone’s appearance
• Conversations, questions, and stories about sex
• Staring and looking up and down
• Rumours about someone’s sex life or use of sex to get ahead
• Suggestive emails, text messages, or other communications
• Sexist comments that are not necessarily sexual
• Vulgar language, jokes about sex (or gender), innuendo, and music with sexually explicit lyrics
• Displays of pornography or sexually explicit or degrading materials (including posters, calendars, drawings, emails, screensavers, and more)
• Unwanted touching or physical contact
• Requests for sexual favours and pressure for sex
• Threats based on rejection of sexual advances
• Rape and sexual assault
It came to my attention that there are also subtle sexual harassment incidents women deal with on a daily basis. One woman confessed;
“I work in the games industry. At my last job, a guy would frequently (not quite daily) block the cubicle exits with his body when I was trying to get by, and giggle as I stopped in my tracks because I didn’t want to have to smush up against him. He was really gross and it wasn’t cute. He made comments about “the view” to another designer while staring at my body. I reported him to HR twice and he still works there, and has been promoted to the highest position. I was nudged off the team because I couldn’t work with him.” These incidents are more common than reported.
How to deal with sexual harassment at work
One type of sexual harassment, called “quid pro quo sexual harassment,” is where you’re offered a job, promotion or favors if you submit to the harasser — or are threatened that you’ll be demoted, fired or disciplined if you don’t.
Document any comments and different treatment you’ve received. Do this in a hostile environment where you’re being harassed due to your gender.
Keep your notes in a safe place. Don’t put them on your work computer, in a desk drawer or somewhere where your employer can take them. Instead, keep them in a purse or briefcase or write them on your home computer.
Gather your evidence. If the harasser is texting, emailing or sending cards or notes, keep copies. Don’t delete them. Make sure you take a screen shot of any texts.
Report the harassment at work. Make sure you’ve followed the company sexual harassment policy, if there is one, and reported your concern to the correct person.
Start looking for a position elsewhere. If your company won’t do anything and you don’t feel safe there, start looking for a position elsewhere.
Sometimes a sexual harasser will work on your head and make you feel like nobody else would want you. Don’t believe it. You’ll be amazed how relieved you’ll be to get out of a bad situation. Stand up for your right to a safe workplace.