A few months ago I read about an employee who was complaining about harassment by a co-worker.
The behaviour in question, it was stated, was making the victim uncomfortable to the point his productivity and peace of mind was severely affected.
However, listening to how people outside of the situation responded was baffling at best; possibly because the person lodging the complaint was male, and the aggressor was a female co-worker whom he claimed was making unwelcome sexual overtures.
Solutions offered to the victim ranged from ‘man up’ and ‘put her in her place’.
According to research, 50-60 per cent cases of sexual harassment occur at the workplace, and 15 per cent of the victims are men. This means that the bulk of them are women.
Wolf whistles, catcalls, lewd looks and remarks are part of most women’s lives that it is considered normal. However, in as much as it may seem like a random incident out on the street, if it happens in the workplace measures should be taken to curb it.
It is worth noting that to be termed sexual harassment, it has to be unwelcome though it is not restricted to individuals of the opposite sex or in a position of power; it can be perpetrated by co-workers, subordinates and members of the same gender.
In dealing with sexual harassment you have to set boundaries: If you find yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable or if a colleague asks you questions or to do things, go places or engage in conversation that make you uncomfortable, say ‘NO’ emphatically.
Likewise, if you come across offensive behaviour, say no immediately to the person’s face. Speaking out immediately can be effective in combating the behaviour. Potential harassers usually rely on the silence of the victim to let their actions go unchecked.
Speaking out not only shames the aggressor into stopping his or her behaviour, it also helps in changing the attitudes of people towards this matter and creates an enabling environment for other victims to speak out.
Keep a record: Sometimes things happen in the workplace that may be construed as harassment. However, when in doubt ask yourself if it was severe or pervasive. A single isolated incident may not fall under ‘sexual harassment’ unless it was severe.
If the incident occurs more than once, keep a record with dates, places, times and witnesses if any.
Confrontation: If you can, confront the aggressor. This might work if he or she is unaware that his actions are making you uncomfortable or are offensive.
Describe the exact behaviour to them, explain why you find it offensive and state that you would like it to stop immediately.
Stem any attempts to trivialise it or make a joke of it such as “Why are you taking it personal? I was only joking”. Speak clearly and maintain eye contact. Above all, do not, for a moment make any apologies for raising the complaint.
In case you are not confident that you can handle this alone, ask a confidant or a friend you trust to accompany you.
Report the behaviour: If you are not able to face the aggressor, consider writing a letter or an email as outlined above and copying your Human Resources Officer or in his absence, your supervisor.
Find out if your company policies provide for how to deal with sexual harassment. In case there is a procedure, follow it. Document any steps you have taken to remedy this situation.
Remember that in as much as you may feel embarrassed or think that in some way it may have been your fault, it never is and the sooner you lodge a formal complaint the better.