One of my reasons for so strongly supporting the ITU and UN Women led EQUALS (gender equality in the digital age) initiative was my realisation that there continues to be a surprising amount of sexual harassment at international ICT events, as noted in my blog post on the subject in May 2016. I still firmly believe that all organisations convening such conferences and events should have a set of guidelines advising participants on appropriate behaviours, not least since such behaviours are heavily culturally influenced, and people may not always realise what is expected behaviour in another culture.
However, my management and leadership experience has sadly taught me that sexual harassment in the workplace, especially in the ICT sector, remains far too prevalent. I have always tried to put appropriate policies in place if they did not previously exist in the organisations where I have worked, and personally to support those who considered that they were being harassed. I have also encouraged organisations to provide training where relevant, and always to include sexual harassment within wider staff training programmes on bullying. However, I realise that I have never provided specific guidance on my blog to advise people on how to respond to being harassed. When people are sexually harassed, they often feel helpless and do not know where to turn. Recommended responses to harassment also vary in different legal systems and cultures. So, to make amends , I thought it might be helpful to provide the following set of links that provide a wealth of helpful material:
- Australian Human Rights Commission: Sexual Harassment – information for employees. A useful summary of information in an Australian context.
- Avocats Murielle Cahen: Que faire en cas de harcèlement sexuel. Conseils d’un cabinet d’avocats français
- Aware: What can you do if you are sexually harassed. Advice from the Singaporean Association of Women for Action and Research.
- BBC. What do do if you think you are being sexually harassed at work. A 2017 piece by Holly Wallis and Laura Lea. Very useful for people in the UK.
- Citizens Advice: Sexual Harassment. An excellent, clearly written guide on how to respond to sexual harassment in the UK.
- Feminist Majority Foundation. Sexual harassment fact sheet. Quite detailed information from a USAn feminist perspective.
- FindLaw. Sexual Harassment: actions you can take. FindLaw is part of Thomson Reuters, and this link provides useful advice primarily from a USAn perspective.
- Forbes. What to do if you’re being sexually harassed at work. Advice in 2016 from Kerry Hannon, mainly from a USAn perspective
- Healthdirect: sexual harassment. Advice from the Australian government health service.
- Legalline.ca: What to do if you are sexually harassed. Advice from a Canadian perspective.
- Que faire spécifiquement en cas de harcèlement sexuel au travail? Conseils du Centre LAVI (Loi fédérale sur L’aide aux Victimes d’Infractions) de Genève.
- Worksmart: What should I do if I’m being sexually harassed? Advice from the UK’s TUC on sexual harassment.
Summarising the above, it seem that there are five main pieces of immediate advice:
- Know your organisation’s staff handbook and always follow the guidance contained within it on sexual harassment.
- Talk with your harasser immediately, tell them that you do not like being harassed, and ask them to stop. This may not always be easy, but it is important that they know you feel harassed. If it helps, have a friend with you when you tell them.
- Document everything, and put the date on every note. Preferably, do this in a handwritten form in a notebook that can be used as a consecutive record of what has happened. Do not simply type it on your work laptop or computer that could be hacked by someone else.
- Report it in writing to the appropriate person in your workplace immediately if any touching is involved, or if you receive explicit demands for sex. If you are being harassed by the person to whom you are meant to be reporting, or if the head of the company or organisation is the person who is harassing you, there should be a nominated alternative person who should be informed. This might be the Head of Human Resources, or if the head of the organisation is concerned it could be the Chairman of the Board or Council.
- Find support. Many organisations and companies have someone whose role is to provide such first line support or provide direction to an appropriate source of help. People who are harassed sometimes feel guilty, or blame themselves , even though they have done nothing to encourage such harassment.