Imagine this: you’re at your workplace, whether that’s your full-time profession or a part-time job in a company. A co-worker, superior, or perhaps a client approaches you and makes a very inappropriate comment about your outfit with a gaze that makes your skin crawl. He might even put his arm around your body, and let it linger there for far too long. Or, he asks you to join him in the evening for a drink at his place because his wife is out of town.
You feel suddenly very uncomfortable, your belly twists and you fake a smile in order to “play along”, but your mind is actually wandering off to escape this situation. Yep, situations like this are all too familiar.
Here are five tips for dealing with sexual harassment at work.
1. Pull them up on it
A shy smile or just ignoring the harassment doesn’t it make go away. We tend to act like this because we feel uncomfortable. But the fact is, it’s the person acting inappropriate who should feel uncomfortable — not you. If you feel safe enough to do so, muster up the courage to say something about it. Tell him or her (because sexual harassment also happens at the hands of women) that this is not okay and how it makes you feel. The best case scenario is that they genuinely didn’t realise that their behaviour was inappropriate, they apologise and they never do it again.
2. Report to HR, your superior or any other co-worker you trust
If you cannot stand up to your harasser in the moment (‘losing your voice’ is completely normal and happens to many people!) write down what happened in detail. When was it? What was said? Who witnessed it? Has it happened before? How did you feel? Place all the answers in an official report letter, and hand it over to a person you trust at work. You may also choose to take this step if you raise the issue with your harasser and they seem non-responsive or make a joke out of it
3. Stand up for others when you witness sexual harassment
If you see someone else getting harassed at work and they don’t have the strength to speak up, now is your turn to step in. Imagine you were this girl, how much it would boost your spirit for the future by just standing next to her and putting the harasser in the place for her. It’s so important to protect those who are vulnerable, and this applies to any kind of discrimination or bullying — inside or outside the workplace.
4. Take further action if necessary
Experiencing sexual harassment isn’t something anyone wishes for. It feels disturbingly awkward and can make you feel insecure — something which in the workplace, can be a huge disadvantage in terms of getting to a leadership position or being confident enough to ask for a salary raise. So, let’s say the company you’re working for protects the other person and doesn’t believe you, it may come to leaving the company or hiring a lawyer to stand up for your rights.
5. Join or create a supportive female community
Depending on the size of your workforce, you may want to consider creating a regular meet-up through a women circle. Invite all female identifiying co-workers via email and create safe spaces to talk about salary negotiations, sexual harassment and other sensitive topics. In case you work either in a male-dominated company or a very small business with no female co-workers, look for communities outside work somewhere in your city or online. Never forget, you’re not alone!