Sexual harassment at work is an abuse of authority against the workforce. Those who initiate harassment at work just want to reinstate their ‘power and control’ over those who rank lower in the professional hierarchy. With power dynamics in workplaces skewed in favor of men, it is nearly always women who are forced to contend with the lack of equal status and opportunity at work.
Women may be subjected daily to derogatory remarks and negative influences which hamper their productivity. In this unwelcome cycle of gender discrimination at work, many women give up their jobs or change their career fields.
While women have long borne the brunt of stigma of sexual harassment victimhood, they need not suffer in silence anymore. They should not feel ‘powerless’, as India’s legal framework now has stringent laws and rules to restore the rights of working women.
Women must raise their voices against harassment at work and make the world a progressive and gender-equal place. But the underlying question here is, ‘Do women know about such laws and coping mechanisms in great detail?’ Do they know what to do in the case of sexual harassment at work?
To give an accurate picture to the growing women workforce, let us first analyze what is considered sexual harassment at work.
What Is Considered Sexual Harassment In The Workplace?
It is shocking but true that millions of women lack proper knowledge of the definition of sexual harassment. They do not know how sexual misconduct in the workplace is defined, and how to differentiate between subtle and extreme forms of sexual harassment at work.
Many women think that threats and unwanted physical advances are a part of the office environment and choose to ignore the subtle signs of sexual harassment at work. But the signs and symptoms that may be subtle in the beginning can become toxic and corrosive in the long run.
Now, imagine the time taken by a woman to recognise the offensive conduct at work. The amount of stress, self-blame, confusion and bullying may take away her peace of mind and productivity. She may think of leaving the job; in extreme cases, change careers completely.
These disillusioned thoughts could hamper her economic empowerment and independence. To end this vicious cycle, women must break the silence right in time to put a complete stop to their struggles and sufferings.
If you are confused about what is considered sexual harassment, the United Nations has clearly categorized what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.
The United Nations has created a dossier defining the concept and the types of sexual harassment prevalent in hostile workplaces. Some of them are as follows:
- Unwanted sexual gestures or suggestive signals
- Non-verbal cues include unwelcome body language like staring, scanning the person through ‘elevator eyes’
- Physical advances and inappropriate touching
- Displaying suggestive visuals like pornography and illustrations
- Unwanted pressure for dates, flirting or demanding sexual favors
- Verbal signals may include sexual comments about a person’s anatomy or dress sense, talking about sexual fantasies, intrusive questions about social or sexual life
- Sexist remarks from colleagues/boss/client
As a working woman, if you recognise even one of these signs, it amounts to sexual harassment at work. If you find yourself in such an awkward situation, take charge of things, follow procedure and guidelines and bravely take a stand against this misogyny.
Though this is a sad reality, don’t feel victimized, as there are laws and rules that uphold the rights of a working woman, which we will explore further.
What Do You Do In Case Of Sexual Harassment At Work?
Being sure of sexual harassment in the workplace and acknowledging it is the first step towards raising your voice. Here is the process that can help you to navigate further and prepare you to take a brave stand individually against sexual harassment at work.
Make sure to alert the authorities or the department in charge and take a calculated step towards dealing with this issue. Many times men claim, “I’ve been accused of harassment at work”, and they get away with their actions, painting the survivor as the bad guy. That’s why you need to be smart about the whole situation.
How To Deal With Sexual Harassment In The Workplace
Is there anything that goes on in your office that makes you wonder, “Am I being sexually harassed at work?” If so, then you need to deal with this immediately, before things get out of hand. Here are some things you need to do to ensure you deal with workplace harassment in the best way possible:
1. Evaluate the situation in your company
Try to find out whether the organization promotes mockery or harbors a bias against a particular gender. Be observant while working in the office to find out whether you are the only one suffering due to this gender bias or if others too are suffering due to gender apathy.
2. Gather peer support at work
Often, the harassers trouble many of their women colleagues or subordinates with varying degrees of sexual overtones. Find out if there are other victims of assault like you by talking to your ex- or current colleagues indirectly. Make notes of all the time you and the other ladies have witnessed harassment at work.
Research the history and past records of the harasser, and gather witnesses to strengthen your case. If possible, ask the aggrieved women professionals to email their statements as written proof against the perpetrator
3. Understand your rights under the company guidelines
Right to equality and opportunity is a fundamental right for all the working citizens. Most companies have a policy regarding sexual harassment and work, and guidelines on how to protect their employees.
Most of the times, it is the duty of the employer/other responsible persons in the workplaces to prevent or deter acts of sexual harassment. Also, the management is equally responsible to bring bias-free and appropriate resolution, settlement or prosecution for any complaint.
4. Confront the harasser
‘No’ is a very powerful word. Instead of ‘suffering in silence’, tell your harasser to back off from degrading behaviors in a no-nonsense way. This confrontation shifts the power dynamics and brings the control of the situation to you.
Don’t open up about your intent to file a complaint, but tell them strictly that their behavior is unwelcome to you. Inform them about what is considered sexual harassment and that what they are doing is wrong, and could result in them losing them their job. This step is optional but can be personally empowering and liberating.
5. File formal complaints at the police station and in the office
Filing an FIR is the first legal step taken against the extreme cases of harassment in the workplace. Make a written complaint and try to encapsulate when and how the harassment started and how it is draining you emotionally and affecting your productivity.
Besides filing the FIR at a local police station, you can also submit your complaint to an ‘Internal Complaints Committee’ (ICC) within your organization.
Before filing an FIR against sexual harassment, a woman must educate herself about the relevant rules and laws, as well the various facets of sexual abuse.
General rules regarding sexual harassment at work
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of ways, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
- The victim, as well as the harasser, may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex from the harasser.
- The harasser may be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker or a nonemployee, such as a vendor or customer.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
Tips to cope with sexual harassment at work
Facing sexual harassment at work and coming out in the open is a challenging yet a brave step. As a survivor, if you are coming out against workplace sexual harassment, here are some important coping tips to help you survive the tough, challenging times ahead.
- Have a strong support system in place: Your family and friends are your biggest support system in the world. Without any expectations or demands, they will always stand by you. Before you initiate any legal action against your harasser, keep them with you all the time. Remember, the legal proceedings, police investigations or ICC meetings might drain your energy and confidence. The company of family and friends who care for you will help you get through this hardship.
- Seek professional help: Sexual harassment in the workplace erodes your confidence and self-worth. It may instill doubt in your professional capabilities and increase your stress levels as well. In such troubled times, an aggrieved survivor should seek a psychologist or a counsellor’s help to sail through the traumatic times
- Read up on local NGOs: Their number should be a go-to zone if you need immediate expert guidance and don’t know where to go. Many NGOs are associated with this helpline and can support women in legal, psychiatric and psychological and other kinds of counselling.
Related Reading: Empathy – A short film on sexual harassment
Standing for our rights and taking necessary steps in time can make workplaces safe for the present and future generations. Question yourself- “am I being sexually harassed at work?” And then make your voice heard and fight for your right.
Whenever anyone approaches Bonobology counsellors regarding workplace sexual harassment, we suggest they learn more about their rights and laws and inspire them to speak up. Empowerment is the only way to claim power back into your life.
Do you agree with us? Do you feel that if women were more sexually aware and informed about the laws, they would be able to speak up and fight for their rights with confidence? Do you think this awareness would make workplaces safe for millions of women professionals? Would the cases of harassment at work reduce? Share your views with us!
Raise your voice when you feel like something is not right. Gather proof and the support of your colleagues, because this battle is best when fought together.
Every workplace has an HR department and an Internal Complaints Committee. Set up a meeting with them and inform them about the sexual misconducts taking place at work.