As recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein show, sexual harassment in the workplace thrives on silence and secrecy. Once sexual harassment is held up to the light of day and victims come forward, it becomes almost impossible for the harasser to continue his or her inappropriate and hurtful behavior.
Victims have two strong weapons: a willingness to speak up loudly and firmly, and a willingness to disclose what is going on to those who can take action. Here are six ways to foil workplace sexual harassment and to hold perpetrators accountable.
1) Educate Yourself
Know your rights. Every company has an employee handbook that defines the procedure to follow if you feel you have been sexually harassed.
2) Stand Tall
Whenever someone by words or actions does something that makes you feel uncomfortable, draw yourself up, look them in the eye and say in a firm voice (louder than you would normally speak): "Please don't do that. I don't like it." If they laugh or say something like "I was only joking," say directly, "It's not funny to me. Stop. I don't like it." Your distress should be made crystal clear.
3) Honor Your Feelings
Don't assume that you are overreacting or being oversensitive. Stand firmly behind your convictions. Many people find this difficult because they want to be liked by everybody. If a person who makes you uncomfortable does not like you, so what? Your happiness and well being are far more important than being liked by unlikeable individuals.
4) Show and Tell
A co-worker may do something that could be innocuous, but it still makes you uncomfortable. For example, if a co-worker suggests you get together for a drink after work and you prefer not to, you can respond by saying: "What a great idea, I think we should all go out together; let me see what Mary and Tom are doing later." This kind of response diffuses a potentially private and unwanted intimate encounter and makes it into an innocent social event.
If the individual really wants to have some company to wind down after work, including other people will be fine. If the person wants to get you in a potentially sexual setting, they will be put off by the public nature of the situation.
5) Keep the Baby, Throw Out the Bath Water
Sometimes a situation is ambiguous. For example, a boss may want to talk to you about a promotion, but suggests meeting after hours to do so. You are uncomfortable with meeting after work, but most certainly want to discuss a possible promotion. Rather than dismissing the entire situation as unwanted, keep what is worthwhile and appropriate, in this case, discussing the promotion and changing what is inappropriate, the after-hours meeting: "Yes, I'm very interested in discussing a promotion, and I'm available anytime between 9:00 and 5:00 here at the office."
Your boss will either get the hint and respect your preferences, or will not, in which case the situation is no longer ambiguous.
6) Document and Report
It is in your best interest to report any incident of sexual harassment immediately. If you are not sure if something constitutes sexual harassment, err on the side of caution -- report it. Write a brief description of what happened, by and to whom, name of witnesses if any, where the harassment took place, the date and the time. Whenever you report inappropriate behavior, do so in writing even if written documentation is not required by company policy. Keep a copy of the complaint for yourself.
You have the right to work in a sexual harassment-free environment. Respect that right and use the above techniques to help others respect it as well.
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