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How women can manage sexual harassment

The Weinstein affair and the “MeToo” hashtag have put sexual harassment questions at the heart of the news. The corporate world is no exception and is experiencing this problem as well. And yet, as an employer, it is often difficult to grasp the subject. How do you recognize and respond to sexual harassment as a victim, witness, or employer?

The hierarchical relationships and economic dependence inherent in the professional world indeed play an important role in the occurrence of a relationship of control. This threatens the well-being of employees, their mental and physical health, the quality of their work, and their efficiency. Better awareness of all stakeholders in the company is necessary.

Survey on sexual harassment

According to a recent survey conducted, 34% of European workers have had to face sexual violence, harassment, discrimination, or assault on one or more occasions during the past year. This is worrying because such unwanted behavior threatens the well-being of workers. Fortunately, as an employer, you are not helpless; on the contrary.

A survey of more than 10,000 workers on psychosocial factors at work showed that more than a third of them had been victims of undesirable behavior during the past year. This is alarming all the more since any form of sexual harassment will have a significant negative impact on your employees' mental and physical well-being and on the productivity of your company.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined as any behavior with a sexual connotation the object or effect of which is to undermine a person's dignity or to create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment. This behavior can be verbal, non-verbal, or bodily.

Why are victims often unaware that they are?

A victim does not always recognize himself as such. A certain ambiguity of the situations can make her doubt. Sexual harassment is not only characterized by touching as we sometimes think. Likewise, a person can be the victim of harassment without being specifically targeted by being confronted with an environment strongly connoted sexually.

In addition, a victim of harassment may appear to participate in this type of atmosphere. Laughing or uttering comments of a sexual nature can be signs of embarrassment, a desire to integrate into the group, or constitute a defense mechanism.

Potentially risky situations

These behaviors are to be avoided in the workplace:

· Presence of posters and computer wallpapers of a sexual nature;

· Repetitive remarks or compliments on the appearance of a collaborator;

· Equivocal or double-sided remarks;

· Frequent jokes of a sexual nature.

How to react if you face inappropriate behavior?

Often times, a victim is shocked and unwilling to acknowledge the situation. Hence the importance of preventive information to be better equipped in the event of a problem. 

· Take your discomfort as a signal to be taken seriously;

· Make it clear that something or behavior is bothering you, and asks for it to stop;

· dare to set limits - they are different for everyone, and not everyone has the same humor;

· talk to those around you and possibly to the occupational physician, prevention advisor or the person you trust in your company;

· take factual notes and leave chronological traces (email, SMS);

· Do not lock yourself in solitude.

Have you witnessed inappropriate behavior?

Witnessing harassment can be difficult. Often, a witness also feels threatened and afraid of losing their job. If you witness harassment, be sure to:

· do not question or minimize the acts of harassment confided by your colleague;

· notify the stalker when their behavior is inappropriate;

· take notes and offer your help in reporting the situation to the employer;

· make you available to write a testimonial;

· do not play vigilante. Only the victim can decide to denounce the facts

On the employer's side: prevention is better than cure

Did you know that if the harassment takes place in the workplace, the employer is responsible, even if the unwanted behavior is committed by a customer or a third party in the company?

Sexual harassment remains one of the most complex psychosocial risks to combat in the professional world. But the figures are not mistaken: prevention rules are of crucial use. These action points will put you on the right track:

· Establish your policy for preventing and combating psychosocial risks. This makes it possible to provide a clear framework for acceptable social behavior.

· Have you already carried out a psychosocial risk analysis? You can use the SONAR method. This method makes it possible to carry out an integrated, quantitative, and qualitative analysis of psychosocial risks.

But the numbers don't lie: preventive measures are urgently needed. Here are some points on which to base your efforts:

· Describe very clearly the accepted and expected behavior in your business. For example, establish a code of conduct based on your corporate values ​​and the limits of socially acceptable behavior.

· If you want to get it right, a prior psychosocial risk analysis is essential. This will allow you to identify all possible risks. 

· Aim to create a positive work environment based on respectful working relationships and allowing discussion of unwanted behavior.

·  Ask for the help of an external prevention advisor (psychosocial aspects) or appoint a trustworthy person in your company. So your employees will always have someone to confide in if something happens to them.

Act quickly against harassment

The law allows victims a period of six years after the facts to initiate proceedings. However, it is better to wait as little as possible because in order to establish the offense of harassment, it is necessary to gather evidence - written messages or SMS, voice messages, testimonies, medical certificates- all of which are easier to collect at the time. 

Interlocutors in the workplace

Suppose you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. In that case, it is possible to ask for help from staff representatives or union representatives, the occupational doctor, or the labor inspectorate, which is responsible for investigating these questions.

Let us recall that the employer has an obligation to ensure the safety of his employees and that as such, he can be prosecuted in the industrial tribunal, in parallel to a criminal procedure.

Are you a victim of sexual harassment? Beware of Stockholm syndrome: this term refers to the fact that a person can empathize with their executioner/torturer, adopt their point of viewSexual harassment, and even defend it.

Author: Vicki Lezama


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