By Anja van den Berg
Sexual harassment has been normalised in our society, says Professor Naeemah Abrahams, acting director of the Gender and Health Research Unit of the Medical Research Council.
The research agency Columinate recently engaged 1000 urban South Africans to investigate the statistics behind sexual harassment in the workplace. The results were less than ideal; the data correlate with Professor Abraham’s statement. Amongst other disheartening findings, the study conveyed that 30% of women and 18% of men have been victims of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace.
Sexual harassment happens everywhere: in the most lucrative industries and in minimum-wage jobs, in glamorous fields as well as in the most ordinary. The high costs of sexual harassment are evident, from employee outrage to the loss of worker productivity and employee attrition.
When it comes to the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, the pressure on leadership accountability is reaching boiling point.
“The consequences of tolerating such behaviour are serious,” says Colleen Ammerman, director of the Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School. “It would be wise for leaders to do more than review and update harassment policies and trainings.”
Research conducted by Stanford University points to a single step that leaders can take to help reduce sexual harassment: communicate to employees that preventing it is a high-priority issue for their companies.
In just a few sentences, this signals to others how much they should prioritise the issue and sets a culture in which sexual harassment is not tolerated.
According to the research team, this messaging is critical because, more than any other aspect of a company, “it is organisational climate that best predicts the occurrence of sexual harassment”.
Newly published research in the journal Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World underlines these important findings: the way leaders communicate can indeed shape peoples’ attitudes toward sexual harassment.
When the climate toward sexual harassment is lenient, members feel that there are few consequences – that those who engage in sexual harassment will be protected, while those who report it will be disregarded or even penalised.
“Of course, leader communication alone will not solve this issue,” says Shelley Correll, a professor of sociology and organisational behaviour at Stanford University.
“Companies that wish to eradicate sexual harassment must follow words with actions, taking steps to bring transparency and accountability to policies and investigation processes.
“If leaders do nothing, however, they are not just acting neutrally. They may be fostering a culture where sexual harassment will become more prevalent.”
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2018/12/study-when-leaders-take-sexual-harassment-seriously-so-do-employees
Sage Journals: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2378023118808617#articleCitationDownloadContainer
Fast Company: https://www.fastcompany.com/3032291/why-sexual-harassment-is-still-an-issue-and-why-so-many-get-away-with-it
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2017/12/why-sexual-harassment-persists-and-what-organizations-can-do-to-stop-it
The South African Labour Guide: https://www.labourguide.co.za/general/600-code-of-good-practice-on-sexual-harassment113
Biz Community: https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/607/181307.html