Understanding Harassment in a Diverse Workplace

Understanding Harassment in a Diverse Workplace

  • Date: Monday 23rd July 2018
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Most of us recognise that certain types of behaviour are inappropriate and likely to be seen as sexual harassment. But could a friendly pat on the back for a job well done be construed in the same manner? How about telling someone that they look good or a ‘wolf whistle’?

A starting point in determining what “crosses the line” is to recognise that sexual harassment is defined by social practices and the understanding of these can vary from generation to generation, culture to culture, individual to individual.

A recent global study found that women of different generations were likely to respond differently to a wolf whistle, with women over 65 significantly less likely to view this as harassment (less than 25% felt it was inappropriate) compared to women between the ages of 18 and 24 (over 75% of whom felt it was inappropriate).

There is also a difference between what is legally defined as sexual harassment and what is socially unacceptable. Sexual harassment is to exert power, dominance, and even contempt for the person being harassed.

Perhaps the best approach is to stop thinking about how to avoid allegations of sexual harassment and think how to install dignity and respect throughout your organisation. Most employees set out with good intentions but can become confused about where the boundaries lie.

3 Steps to consider as an employer

1. Start with the assumption that all touching in the workplace is a bad idea (with the exception of a handshake) and ensure employees are aware if this.

2. Apply a Respect or Civility code of conduct.  The simplest way to explain this to your employees is to get them to think of the following question:

“Would I (say this/do this) to my boss, my mother/father, or my son/daughter”?

If the answer is no, they should not say or do it.

3. Encourage employees to consider the underlying feelings of their colleagues, subordinates and managers. Are they dealing with someone whose body language makes it clear that they prefer a more formal interaction, or do they appear to be a ‘hugger’?  Then adapt behaviour accordingly.


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