While women are more likely to be harassed at work, it’s anything but uncommon for a man to face the same treatment.
The momentum built by the powerful #metoo movement has led to more conversations about sexual harassment and increasingly a propensity by decision makers to not tolerate it in their workplaces. With the exception of a select few, most people sharing their stories as part of the #metoo movement have been female. However, research shows men are hardly immune to harassment and the consequences can be severe.
Nearly 20 per cent of workplace sexual harassment complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission come from men.
Sexual harassment at work has been scientifically linked with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. In an effort to cope, victims sometimes resort to unhealthy habits such as problematic drinking.
Twenty-six per cent of Australian men experienced sexual harassment between 2013-2018, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) fourth national survey on workplace sexual harassment. Fifty-eight per cent were sexually harassed by one or more male perpetrators and 47 per cent by one or more female perpetrators (respondents could report multiple incidents of harassment).
In incidents with a single perpetrator, 52 per cent of the time the perpetrator was a man and 47 per cent it was a woman.
“Nearly 20 per cent of workplace sexual harassment complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission come from men.”
Recently, the International Bar Association released its Us Too? report into bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession. The results are startling.
Of 6980 respondents, only 53 per cent had policies and only 22 per cent offered training to address bullying and sexual harassment. Seventy-five per cent of people who experienced sexual harassment never reported it, with men significantly less likely to do so. Quotes from reporting victims give you some idea as to why they felt this way.
One anonymous respondent said, “Even if a company says all the right things, it’s very easy to be branded as someone who is a ‘troublemaker’, especially if the perpetrator has a record of long service at the firm or is a senior member of staff.”
Another said, “I didn’t report because who believes that a man says ‘no’ to sex?”
The report found some men don’t report harassment because they don’t recognise it at the time it occurs. For example, a respondent from a Swedish firm said, “At an office party a female lawyer was intoxicated and approached me, touching me in a sensual way and suggesting that we go home together. I repeatedly told her ‘no’. She ignored this and put her hand on my crotch. I would probably never have reflected on the incident as sexual harassment had it not been for women’s testimonies of similar incidents as a result of #metoo.”
It’s true the sexual harassment men experience is often less intrusive. According to the AHRC, 19 per cent of harassment of men constituted sexually suggestive comments or jokes, and 10 per cent was intrusive questions about their private life or physical appearance.
Employers need to make it clear that this type of harassment is not acceptable. It can still constitute unlawful sexual harassment where it is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in the circumstances.
“I didn’t report because who believes that a man says ‘no’ to sex?”
Ten recommendations for employers
Organisations need to take positive steps to address their workplace culture and how they deal with sexual harassment. The Us Too? report provides the following recommendations for change, the utility of which extends to the protection of all workers in all industries:
- Raise awareness – spreading the word is the first step towards achieving change.
- Revise and/or implement policies and standards around harassment.
- Introduce regular, customised training.
- Increase dialogue and best-practice sharing on what works and what doesn’t.
- Take ownership – this is everyone’s problem. We need to work towards a more harmonious workplace.
- Gather data about the nature, prevalence and impact of sexual harassment and improve transparency.
- Explore flexible reporting models – employees do not report sexual harassment often enough.
- Engage with younger staff, who are disproportionately impacted.
- Appreciate the wider context – sexual harassment does not occur in a vacuum. Mental health challenges, a lack of workplace satisfaction and insufficient diversity are all related issues. These dynamics need to be understood and addressed collectively.
- Maintain momentum
Change is by no means inevitable, but it is possible. To achieve cultural change: education is required, bystanders must act, policies must be promulgated and indiscriminately enforced, and leaders must not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace against any employee, at any time, for any reason.
Fay Calderone is a partner at Hall and Willcox. This article originally appeared in the July 2019 edition of HRM magazine.