Harassment at work one of top three worries for women

Wouldn’t it be nice if all workplaces were safe, with a great culture, and open enough for people to raise concerns where they needed to?  Unfortunately, many workplaces are not, and particularly for women.

A recent survey commissioned by Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, found that, in G20 countries, the third thing women at work found most challenging was harassment – after the gender pay gap and work-life balance.

It would have been interesting to see the results of a similar survey conducted with male employees – because I am sure work-life balance would also have been in the top three but not the gender pay gap and harassment (other than perhaps bullying as harassment).

Interestingly, the survey  found that almost 30% of women surveyed had experienced some form of harassment whilst at work, but of those, only approximately 60% felt able to raise concerns – most women ‘suffer in silence’, rather than speak up.Workplace Harrasment

You can read more detail of the survey in the Australian Financial Review here – it is particularly interesting to see that women in India, fed up with the never ending reports of sexual assault have decided to speak up more often.

Why is it that most women can’t or won’t speak up?

There are many reasons.

Sexual harassment, in particular, is usually found where the perpetrator is in a position of power over the ‘victim’, so that there will be fear as to the impact on career prospects.  If the person doing the harassing is in a decision making position over the other person’s career or salary, then it is easy to see why an accusation will not be made.

Another reason is fear of not being believed.  If the person to be accused of sexual harassment is someone who is liked, revered, ‘happily married’, held in high esteem with an unblemished record  etc, then who would believe you if you raised a complaint?  The fact that most sexual harassment cases have only two witnesses – the perpetrator and the victim – make these cases very hard to investigate.  Look at the end result of the Rolf Harris investigation – women remained silent for fear of not being believed, but once one person spoke up, others came forward.

The victim can also feel that they are somehow responsible – if the event took place at a function where a few drinks had been held, it is even more unlikely that a woman would raise a complaint, preferring to pretend it never happened.

The truth is however that unless women speak up, harassment at work will continue – and not just against the same person.  Other people may suffer as well.

Speaking up can be hard, but if you have been sexually harassed, make sure you do these things:

  • Make notes of the event in question
  • Take someone with you when you go to speak to HR or another senior person
  • Make sure you know what you want to achieve – an investigation can be very hard to go through, so if all you want is an acknowledgement that the behaviour was inappropriate, a commitment that it won’t happen again and an apology, then say so. Talk through the options with the senior person with whom you are speaking
  • Make notes of that meeting and make sure you follow up
  • Any further incidents should also be noted, particularly if you feel in any way victimised

Speaking up can be hard – but sometimes staying silent is harder.