Written by Krista McIntosh, Principal & Sr. HR Consultant, ACTivate HR
Studies conducted over the last three years by the Government of Canada have revealed shocking and upsetting statistics about the prevalence of sexual harassment in Canadian workplaces.
The number of people reporting that they were harassed at work range from 20% - 60% with those reporting sexual harassment ranging from 4% - 30% of respondents.
When we hear statistics like these, we wonder how the numbers can be so high and how situations of long-term, systemically accepted sexual harassment in an organization can happen. We also question if it could possibly happen where we work - an especially concerning question for owners and senior leaders of companies. The truth is – yes it could.
Sexual harassment may be happening and you aren’t aware of it … or you are aware and simply don’t see it for what it is.
The internet is full of articles, blogs, and personal stories of how to stop workplace sexual harassment from happening. Common themes are to ensure you have good harassment policies, encourage targets to report inappropriate behaviour, ask bystanders not to turn a blind eye, and provide training on what constitutes harassment. What is missing, though, is asking people to have a good, hard, honest look at what happens in their organization – as well as what doesn’t happen.
The sexual harassment allegations that make it to the news are of an extreme nature and some cross the line to assault. However, subtler, yet just as devastating, sexual harassment occurs in workplaces everywhere. To get a sense of how likely it is to happen in your organization, answer the questions below honestly. At first glance, the items below may not seem to be directly linked to sexual harassment. However, they outline the conditions and attitudes that can allow harassment of all kinds to occur.
Do leaders accept or explain away rude or condescending behaviour for some people because it is ‘just who they are’?
Do leaders turn a blind eye when certain employees bend rules or go against policy because the employees’ results are viewed as exemplary? Or do they get away with this type of behaviour because of who they are close to in the organization?
Do some leaders ignore bad behaviour because the company is disproportionately dependent on the offending employee for new work, income, clients, etc.?
Is your workplace culture one where, if an individual demonstrates aggressive or condescending behaviour no one does anything to stop it?
Do you have a workplace culture where leaders don’t address issues head on and avoid difficult conversations?
Have you had multiple resignations of employees in one area? Is the resignation rate of females in your organization, or in one group, higher than that of males?
Do you have experiences of employees who go from top performers to bottom performers in a short period of time?
Do leaders consider negative behaviour towards others when assigning performance ratings, promotions or other rewards? Or is the focus only on profit or productivity metrics?
Do leaders operate with a lot of autonomy and have control over their staff’s schedules, work assignments and assessments?
Do employees question whether complaints to your anonymous complaint line will be dealt with or will remain anonymous?
Have those who raised concerns in the past been retaliated against, chastised, had their credibility questioned or been otherwise ‘punished’?
Are a disproportionate number of promotions, good job assignments or development opportunities granted to a specific group of employees?
The number of times you answered ‘yes’ may have surprised you. Answering yes does not mean that harassment is happening. However, it indicates that the conditions that breed harassment are present in your organization. Similarly, it may also indicate that your culture accepts these conditions. We encourage you to look at harassment with a new lens and take action – particularly if you are in a leadership role.
Make sure you have a solid policy that addresses all forms of harassment and respect in the workplace. Make sure everyone knows what to do if they are the target of, or witness to, harassing behaviour. Train your leaders and employees about behavioural expectations and hold everyone to the same standard.
Most importantly – don’t turn a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour occurring at any level in the organization.