Jan 24 2018
The #MeToo movement has taken the nation by storm over the past few months, and Connecticut is no exception. As victims and survivors are courageously stepping out of the silence to tell their stories, many of us — especially those of us fortunate enough not to be subjected to sexual harassment — are wondering what we can do to support the movement and to end workplace sexual harassment throughout Connecticut and the country.
Here are some modest suggestions:
1. Don’t sexually harass your coworkers.
This advice may seem fairly obvious. But if everyone followed it, imagine how quickly sexual harassment would end. The problem, it seems, is that some men — and the perpetrators are almost always men —don’t understand that what they’re doing at work is sexual harassment. (Either that, or they don’t care.)
The technical definition of sexual harassment is conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with someone’s ability to work or creates a hostile work environment. But what does that mean in practice, and how do you avoid doing it? The answers are pretty straightforward:
- Don’t hit on your coworkers, especially if they report to you or if you are senior to them in the workplace hierarchy.
- Don’t comment on your coworkers’ bodies.
- Don’t talk about sex with your coworkers — not your own, not your coworkers’, not anybody’s — unless your job requires it.
- Don’t send obscene material (such as pornography) to your coworkers, and don’t look at it where your coworkers might see it.
If every employee followed these few simple rules, most sexual harassment would virtually disappear overnight.
2. If you see sexual harassment, say something.
If you see someone engaged in sexual harassment, say something. If you see a coworker who is uncomfortable because of another coworker’s words or actions, don’t pretend to be an innocent bystander with no obligation to act. “But what can I do?,” you might ask. You have some options. You could come up with an excuse to break up the conversation; or you could simply say, “That’s gross”; or you could report what you heard or saw to someone in authority; or you could tell the victim afterward that you saw what happened and don’t support it.
The worst thing you can do is to ignore the harassment. Not only does your inaction fail to stop the harassment, but it also suggests to the victim that no one else sees a problem — that she is unreasonable for being uncomfortable. And that, in turn, contributes to a culture that perpetuates sexual harassment.
3. Facilitate a positive workplace culture.
A positive workplace culture is one that (among many other things) discourages sexual harassment. More broadly, though, it is one where people treat each other with respect and appreciation; and one where all employees feel free to create appropriate boundaries and to speak out when they are uncomfortable. If you manage other workers, make sure your subordinates know that they can approach you with any concerns they have.
4. Listen without judgment.
If a coworker, friend, or family member trusts you enough to tell you about an experience of sexual harassment, listen without judgment. Do not change the subject. Do not argue. Do not minimize her experience by encouraging her to “move on.” Do not ask her what she did to encourage her harasser. Do not ask intrusive or probing questions — unless it’s your job and you’re properly trained. Just listen. And when she is done talking, thank her for trusting you, and ask her what you can do to help.
5. Encourage sexual harassment victims to seek support and assistance.
If you know someone who is a victim of sexual harassment, try to encourage her to speak with an attorney who is experienced in employment law. At a minimum, that attorney will know how to direct the victim to resources that can help her and can make sure that she understands all of her options.