Seven ways to make 2020 a year without harassment of women at work

Guest Contributed By Dr Galina Goncharenko

In 2017, an American actress, Alyssa Milano, tweeted: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet”. The Twitter message went viral and triggered one of the largest contemporary movements against abuse of power, assault and harassment. The #MeToo movement provided visibility and continuous public scrutiny to the cases of abuse of power, sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace. However, it has also highlighted the paucity of options open to women to report problem behavior in the office. Even though, it was effective for celebrities to use their public profile and social media to highlight their appalling treatment, it isn’t necessarily an option for everyone. Here are the seven ways to spend 2020 and the years ahead without harassment and sexual misconduct at work.

Call out inappropriate behavior if you see it in the workplace

We still need to deepen our understanding of the nature of sexual harassment and identify all types of inappropriate behavior that should be no longer tolerated in the workplace. According to the UN survey (2018), less than 2% of the sexual misconduct cases contain attempted or actual sexual assault in the workplace. The remaining 98% include being subjected to sexual stories or jokes, offensive remarks about body and appearance, attempts to draw into a discussion on sexual matters, gestures or use of body language of a sexual nature and touching. Be aware that all these actions belong to sexual misconduct in the workplace as even the least severe of them can cause long-lasting psychological damage and harm your productivity and wellbeing at work.

Ensure that your employer takes the threats of sexual harassment seriously

The #MeToo movement advocates changes to the laws, policies and regulations surrounding sexual harassment and assault, for example, instituting protocols that give victims the ability to file complaints and report predatory behavior without retaliation, as well as the elimination of non-disclosure agreements in the cases of sexual misconduct. The practical steps recommended to be undertaken by organizations include the recognition of inappropriate behavior, the declaration of a zero-tolerance culture on sexual misconduct and acknowledgement of male domination and the need to increase the presence of female leadership. Companies are, or at least should be, refreshed to the importance that the reports and investigations of misconduct should be treated proactively and robustly, with feedback to victims, survivors and the general public.

Ensure that your company has right toolkit to raise a complaint

There are social, cultural and practical barriers to reporting sexual harassment, abuse and misconduct. It can be very difficult to report misconduct in the office face-to-face or via email because the unwanted recipient of the harassment may feel awkward about discussing it, may be uncertain about how the complaint will be received or might wish to complain about someone who is in a position of power or authority over them. Fortunately, we have seen the creation of a market for new digital solutions of harassment reporting which hopefully will help make the complaint raising process easier and empower harassment victims to report all levels of inappropriate workplace conduct. For instance, a London-based technological start-up, Vault Platform, designed a “TrustTech” end-to-end platform that includes the employee app, corporate case management hub and data analytics and helps to support accountability and safety in organizations. This product empowers employees to speak up when they encounter misconduct.

Nurture the new working culture

The technical innovations alone won’t eradicate harassment from the office. The implementation of technological solutions to tackle harassment need to be interlinked to continuous improvement of organizational culture and personal accountability. To move forward the change in organizational practices and culture the creation of psychologically-safe and respectful working environments need to be emphasized. The lack of psychological safety in organizations generates fear and prevents employees from being effective, resourceful and creative. Psychological safety of individuals needs to be placed at the center of developing safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory working environments.  The culture of effective innovation in organizations starts from securing psychological safety of employees, valuing human capital and creating transparency for the balance of power, respect, empathy and non-tolerance of abusive behaviors.

Sign up to kitemarks, codes of conduct and professional campaigns
We have also seen increased opportunities for companies to signal their values through schemes like #HeForShe campaign and #OvertoYou kitemark. Launched by UN Women in 2014, the #HeForShe campaign invites people around the world to stand in solidarity with women to create a visible and united force for gender equality. The #OverToYou Kitemark promotes the work organizations undertake to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. The priority of workplace ethics has also raised in the codes of conducts and standards of many professional bodies, such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute.

Find creative ways to learn more and take inspiration

The #MeToo movement, toxicity and complicity in working environment together with the need for further female empowerment were among the main themes of popular culture in 2019. This brought several inspiring movies and TV series to watch to stay tuned for the #MeToo agenda. For example, a powerful TV drama The Morning Show with Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon shows authentically the complexity of workplace power dynamics and the deep psychological damage of sexual harassment. Another inspiring example is Bombshell with Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie, revealing the true story of how the culture of impunity at Fox News has been unchecked for decades and finally tackled by the acquisitions of 23 known victims.  In addition, the New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, documenting the origins of the #MeToo movement and their investigation of Harvey Weinstein’s case.

Stay conscious

Despite the obligations of employers, regulators and society to ensure non-violent working environment, your safety in the workplace starts with you. Stay empowered by knowing that feeling safe at work is your fundamental human right and learn about the ways to identify and report on unhealthy power imbalances and misbehavior and the instruments to protect yourself.


Guest Bio:

Dr Galina Goncharenko is a Lecturer in Accounting at the University of Sussex Business School. Her research engagement project The impact of harassment reporting technology on organisational accountability and psychological safety in the workplace”  aims to move forward the change in organizational practices and culture emphasizing creating psychologically-safe and respectful working environments. The project facilitates the LinkedIn community “Organisations Without Harassment”  to share effective practices and develop better methods of reducing workplace harassment.

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