Let’s Talk Sexual Harassment at Work

hr leadership sexual harassment Mar 18, 2024
No means no!

If you were to tell me 4 years ago that I would be writing a post like this, I would have laughed at you. The #MeToo movement was in full swing and women were standing up and exposing sexual harassment en masse. It was an encouraging time for those of us who had experienced it and weren’t able to share it for fear of retribution. Fast forward to today and I’m hearing that this type of harassment is happening at an alarming rate. I just spent some time with professional women who were in the first 5 years of their professional career. When this topic came up, nearly everyone had a story. If they didn't tell me verbally, their faces told me everything I needed to know. 

This is not okay. In fact, it ignites rage in my soul. Women should NOT be made to feel less than and be subject unwanted advances that they feel powerless to expose. 

I dove into some research about its prevalence as of 2023. Here is what I found on zippia:

  • Most women — between 54% and 81% — report experiencing some level of sexual harassment at work.

  • Despite this prevalence, between 58% and 72% of victims don’t report instances of workplace sexual harassment.

  • Workers in accommodation and food services account for 14% of harassment charges. This number increases in academia, with 50% of female faculty and staff and between 20% and 50% of female students encountering sexual harassment.

  • Workplace sexual harassment costs companies $2.6 billion in lost productivity and $0.9 billion in other costs.

  • Half of the women (50%) who were victims of sexual harassment stated that it hurt their careers.

  • While most adults (74%) believe their companies take sexual harassment seriously, only 30% of women strongly agree that their employer properly handled harassment incidents.

I want help women today, so here are 3 things that women can do in case they experience any type of unwanted advancement. 

Respond with assertive body language. Non-verbal cues can be powerful. In fact, 80% of communication is nonverbal which helps to convey your message before you even respond with words. Maintain strong, confident body language. Stand tall, make direct eye contact, and keep a firm tone if needed. This communicates boundaries effectively. I also recommend making your body stance wide and strong. Women have been taught and received reinforcement for centuries to be small and not take up too much space. This is not the time to be small. 

Provide clear and firm communication. When declining advances, be direct and unambiguous. Phrases like “No thank you," "Please stop," or "That's inappropriate" can set boundaries in the moment. It is okay to raise your voice so others hear. If you do it in the moment, you are more likely to have others notice if you are around people. If you are alone, it can scare or disarm the aggressor enough for you to get out of the situation.

Always seek support from trusted individuals. Seriously. Don't hesitate to seek support from trusted colleagues, mentors, or HR professionals. Having a support system can provide guidance, validation, and assistance in navigating difficult situations. There is support in numbers and you want to be able to call on your support system in need. Also, when aggressors feel threatened, they bring in a support system to discredit you. It’s unfair but you aren’t operating in a fair environment. Most women aren’t so you should take cues from the other party to stand your ground.

Sexual harassment in the workplace SHOULD NOT be a thing. For anyone. This post was mainly focused on women and I know it happens to every gender. Regardless, any individual can benefit from the three tips provided. Respond with assertive body language, provide clear and firm communication, and always seek support from trusted individuals. If you weren’t able to do the first two, the final point is a must. Gather your people around you and stand up to the aggressor. Do it for you and do it for the countless others who may experience harassment in the future. 

This is a topic that I cover in my 6-month group coaching program for leaders. We talk about what to do as a leader to assure it doesn’t happen in your organization again. We also discuss what to do in further detail if you are the recipient of the harassment. Interested in learning more? Set up a call with me so you can discover how it might help you. Also, if you just need someone to listen, I’m happy to do that too. 

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