What exactly does sexual harassment in the workplace look like?
This blog post is in response to a colleague who challenged me to address sexual wellness as an important interpersonal skill that affects human interpersonal wellness. According to him, most of the interpersonal conflicts and challenges in our world have troubling elements of sexual distortions. He argues that if we had a higher level of consciousness about sex, the world would be a much happier and peaceful place. I agree with him, that distorted thinking and beliefs about sex is a key factor in most complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Over the last few years, I have conducted several sexual harassment investigations. With an increase of diversity in the workplace, there are diverse perspectives on sexual correctness. Left unaddressed for too long, these issues escalate at an alarming rate. Lately, I’ve been encountering sexual misconduct in all ages and groups. After spending years analyzing the issues and actions of sexual misconduct leading up to a complaint, I realize that organizations need to clearly define their expectations of sexual correctness and explain what sexual harassment in the workplace looks like.
Failure to do so is to imply that everyone has the same beliefs or values about sex. Too often issues arise that go unacknowledged, allowing them to escalate further. The following is an example of varying understandings of sexual harassment in the workplace:
A female employee is accosted by her male co-worker. He is upset that she is spending time with another male co-worker, apparently had she spent a great deal of time with during his recent divorce, he is upset that she is sharing her time with other co-workers.
A manager shared dirty sex jokes with his female employees that left them feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable in his presence.
An executive on a business trip went out for drinks with a female colleague after their meeting, she later filed a sexual harassment complaint; though there is no allegation of impropriety, she claimed to have felt coerced to attend.
Sarah wears very short dresses to the office that leave nothing to the imagination, a customer propositioned her. Said she reminded him of his play thing.
Dan calls Joan, “darling” and “sweet thing” and propositions her even after she told him she was married and didn’t appreciate his endearments. He claimed this is the way he talks to women.
Sexual misinterpretations, confusion and tensions have increasingly become a problem in workplaces over the years. How is a workplace to address issues of sexual wellness? All your employees come to the job with different perspectives on sex and sexual correctness, which includes propositioning and accessing sex. It is your responsibility to set the appropriate sexual wellness tone in your organization and decrease the amount of complaints about sexual harassment in the workplace.
The Workplace Wellness Improvement Program® (WWIP) offers support to organizations on defining and setting a sexual correctness tone to improve sexual wellness at work. Here are some tips to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace:
- Use clear guidelines, policies and procedures that acknowledge the problem
- Create awareness and educate employees on what is expected
- Create dialogue to foster understanding and encourage compliance
If you are looking for open dialogue on sexual wellness at work this fall, I would be happy to help you facilitate the process effectively.
To Your Wellness,
Joyce Odidison is a Conflict Analyst, Strategist and Workplace Wellness Coach and creator of the Wellness Improvement System (WIS) programs, consisting of Workplace Wellness Improvement Program (WWIP) and the WIS Wellness assessment Instrument. She is also Director of the only ICF approved training program for Coaches and Wellness Facilitators in Manitoba. Go here to complete a free workplace wellness audit for your workplace today.