"You look nice today"...

by Megon Kalicinski & Kate Lyall

Unsplash image - Sexual harassment - call it out - blog.jpg

There’s a fine line between “You look nice today” and “You look nice today” (with an ‘up-and-down’ look and a leering grin). The former is likely to make you feel good about yourself and is no harm done; the latter leaves you feeling completely uncomfortable. Would you consider this to be sexual harassment?

Let’s say you’re a bystander to the second “You look nice today”. You could think: “no harm done”; someone else is supporting/assisting the victim (41% of bystanders); I don’t want to get involved (20%); I don’t think it’s my responsibility (17%); I don’t know what to do (16%); or I might make the victim feel even worse (25%). Even if you, as the bystander, do want to act, the victim could ask you not to do or say anything (21%). What then?

Context plays a key role when identifying whether conduct was in fact sexual harassment. You need to take into account:

  • Who it was coming from (e.g. a colleague, friend, client, the boss, ex-partner)

  • How it took place (e.g. physical, verbal, non-verbal or visual gestures with eyes, lips, hands, body language, written or electronically)

  • Where it took place (e.g. in a meeting, in an open plan office, at your work desk, in the social area for employees, at a work social event)

  • How it made you/the victim feel (e.g. comfortable or uncomfortable)

The last consideration, “how it made you/the victim feel”, is particularly relevant when deciding whether or not behaviour constitutes sexual harassment. According to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

This law obliges employers to conform and holds everyone responsible to act upon sexual harassment behaviour and complaints. However, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) recently released the data from their fourth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The results revealed that a third of Australians (33%) have experienced sexual harassment at work in the last 5 years; only 17% of this group made a formal complaint, 40% of these incidents were witnessed by at least one other person and in 69% of these cases the bystanders did not try to intervene. Why are we so afraid to call out such behaviour?

If others’ behaviour in your workplace is making you feel uncomfortable, it’s most likely that you are not alone and that others feel the same as you. Results further showed that perpetrators are likely to be the same person, in the same workplace behaving in a similar manner.

So, what can you do?

Call it out! When bystanders take action or speak up, it is effective in stopping the harassment nearly half of the time (45%). So, the next time you see something, say something. This way it will encourage others to do the same and it will help create a safe environment.

Diversity Inclusion is very familiar with this problem in Australian organisations and realises the significant impact that sexual harassment has on employees’ wellbeing, productivity, organisational culture and business performance. We do understand though that sometimes it can be tough to know when and how to call out inappropriate behaviour. Through our Call it Out’ program we provide clients with tools which assist employees to identify sexual harassment behaviour and the bystander approach, as well as strategies to call it out. For more information check out our website or leave us a comment below; we look forward to hearing from you.

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