Dealing with sexual harassment at work

Psychologist reveals a three-step process for standing up against sexual predators in your workplace

Dealing with sexual harassment at work

Despite the powerful media focus on the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment is regrettably still a significant problem in many industries in terms of its prevalence and its impact on victims.

“The majority of women can state a time when they have been made uncomfortable by some sort of sexual comment,” said Liane Davey, Toronto-based psychologist, author and co-founder and principal of communication consultancy, 3COze.

Dealing with sexual harassment is a three-step process, according to Davey.

“In the early stages it’s important to make it clear that it’s unwanted and unwelcomed,” advised Davey. If a man makes an inappropriate comment about your outfit during a meeting, for example, Davey recommends responding with a clear, positive statement such as: “I’d love to keep the conversation focused on the workplace.” These simple words may be sufficient to remind well-meaning men that certain comments or actions are crossing a line.

Having allies to offer reinforcement can be extremely valuable to victims of harassment.

“If the behaviour is coming directly at you, you can be taken off-guard and may not think of the ideal retort,” said Davey. “It’s easier for a third party to step in and say something.”

The second step might be needed if suggestive comments or behaviour become more persistent. In this event, Davey recommends going to your manager or another person in authority to seek advice and ask for coaching to help you handle the harassment.

If the request for help is not taken seriously, or if the pursuer continues his path of sexual harassment, Davey advises escalating the problem to HR, or to the chief risk officer at your firm.

Many firms have policies in place to protect staff from sexual harassment but Davey warns against making the policy too severe.

“We don’t want to create such strict policies that it causes a chilling effect on the relationship between men and women at work,” she explained. Such a situation can result in women being excluded from certain opportunities because men fear an allegation of misconduct.

Of course, if the harassment is severe and unrelenting after warnings, it may be necessary to fire the perpetrator.