Photo Credit: Mihai Surdu,
Photo Credit: Mihai Surdu,

Harassment’s that dirty little word that no one really likes to speak about. In recent news, the lid has finally been blown off this secret and people are coming out of the woodwork to share their story. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the word harassment is defined as:

  1. to annoy persistently;
  2. to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct

And just to be clear, teasing and inflicting worry onto another are synonyms. I point this out because time and again, the phrases “I was just teasing…” is the common statement heard when someone’s confronted. Teasing, joking, worrying, or annoying someone who doesn’t welcome the comments or actions is just plain wrong.

In a recent closed Facebook group, I asked the question of how many women in the group had ever been harassed and if they felt comfortable, to share their story. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting to get any response, but the floodgates opened up.

I was surprised to learn just how prevalent harassment was. How it crossed just about every industry I can think of, and that the behaviors ranged in degree, frequency, and intensity. Some of the respondents were brave enough to share that their particular experience had left lasting scars that they still carry with them today and that it definitely impacts their confidence, how they speak, how they dress, and how they conduct business in the workplace.

In British Columbia, Canada, new legislation was just passed that would ban employers from making females wear high heels at work as part of a campaign to end discriminatory dress code in the workplace. On the heals of this provincial announcement, the Ontario Human Rights Commission warned bosses against cleavage and short skirts in the dress code as well.

In 2017, we’re still trying to sexualize women for profit. These profits come at the expense of a number of health issues for women including back injury, painful bunions, and musculoskeletal pain. What the article fails to address is the emotional pain caused by debasing and vexatious comments and unwanted physical encounters that leave a far worse kind of pain than that experienced by a woman’s feet.

While this is seen as a step in the right direction, who’s going to enforce this legislation? Many companies already have workplace harassment training for their employees, strict policies about harassment, and all the right signage posted as a reminder of how we should treat each other.

Yet, there’s still a problem. If you tell, you’re a whistle blower, a troublemaker, and labelled as such. Oftentimes, the person/people in charge of hearing such complaints are the very people who associate with or inflict the harassment.

In an article by the HuffPost (2015), one in three women had been sexually harassed at work. Of the one in three women, 81% received verbal harassment, 44% received unwanted sexual touching or advances, and 25% received unwanted texts and/or emails. Most of the harassment (75%) was coming from male coworkers, 49% male customers or clients, and 38% from male managers.

  • Industries with the highest reported sexual harassment complaints were:
  • food/hospitality
  • retail
  • STEM
  • arts and entertainment
  • legal
  • education
  • health care

I’m not sure if anyone else sees a pattern, but I sure do!

Sadly, 71% of women didn’t report the harassment because they were afraid to lose their jobs. Worse yet is that these are very smart, well-educated women with 45% of them holding a bachelor’s degree. This is simply not acceptable.

Bill O’Reilly was interviewed by Today‘s Matt Lauer about reports that he sexually harassed several women he worked with at Fox News. While Bill O’Reilly has moved on with a soon-to-be published new book and hosting his own newscast, many women are just not able to recoup in that same way. Since this interview, Matt Lauer has since been fired from Today for similar allegations.

In the interview, it came out that women tend to lose job opportunities when they speak out against harassment. Unfortunately, studies show that these women go on to be harassed again, are undermined at their jobs, or are pushed out of the industry altogether.

The Harvard Business Review (2016) further explained that the bystander effect also takes place. Other people observe what’s happening yet they’re unable to act because they don’t want to get involved or because they don’t see others reacting. So the bystander wants to ensure they behave in the same way as the others.

Lastly, women who want to be a part of the high-status group (still, mostly consisting of men) feel pressured to fit in by accepting the behavior in order to advance their careers. Being a part of the “boys club” can still have negative long-lasting effects of health, job satisfaction, and productivity.

So what can you do if you’re faced with being sexually harassed in the workplace?

Consider the following:

  • Speak to the harasser directly: Be firm and clear with your expectations from the very moment it begins.
  • Familiarize Yourself With You Workplace Policy and Follow-It: Try to follow the procedure to the letter of the law and DOCUMENT everything: time, date, names, locations, what was said/done.
  • File a Human Rights Complaint: This can be done if little or no action has been taken in the workplace.

In my opinion, it’s time to stand up and it’s time to tell. It’s time for all employees, male and female, to demand better treatment of each other and to make it clear that this kind of behavior isn’t tolerated in the workplace.

Further, leaders at the top of organizations need to create cultures where women are treated with respect and that the culture fundamentally opposes any kind of harassment of any person. People who harass or harm others are dealt with swiftly and victims are able to continue their careers without further impediment.

What progressive steps are your company taking to deal with workplace harassment? I would love to hear from you!

Leave a comment and let’s continue the dialogue. Really, it’s the only way to put and end to harassment.