Breaking Down Workplace Harassment: A Guide for Women.

Breaking Down Workplace Harassment: A Guide for Women

Kajal was a talented young woman who had recently joined a multinational company. She was thrilled to have landed her dream job and was excited about the opportunities that lay ahead. However, her joy was short-lived as she soon began to experience subtle sexual advances from a senior male colleague.

At first, Kajal wasn’t sure what to make of the advances. They were not overtly sexual, but they were persistent and made her feel uncomfortable. For a week, she tried to ignore the behaviour, but it only escalated. Finally, she confided in a female colleague who advised her to report it to HR.

Kajal was hesitant to report the incident as she was unsure if it qualified as sexual harassment. However, the HR representative she met with explained that even subtle sexual advances constitute sexual harassment, and it was important to report it to ensure a safe and comfortable work environment. Kajal felt empowered by the conversation and decided to file a complaint. The perpetrator was subsequently terminated.

Sadly, what happened to Kajal is all too common in the workplace, but not all women know what constitutes harassment or how to report it. Sexual harassment is just one form of harassment that women may face at work. Other forms of harassment include verbal abuse, intimidation, and discrimination.

According to a study by the World Equal Employment Opportunity Group, up to 85% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Furthermore, 94% of those who have experienced sexual harassment report negative effects on their self-esteem, work performance, and mental health.

It’s important for employers to understand and recognise the various forms of harassment that women may experience at work, including sexual harassment. Some of the most common forms of harassment include:

  1. Verbal Abuse:

Verbal abuse can be defined as any kind of verbal threat, insult, or harassment that can be demeaning or intimidating for a person. It can take many forms such as yelling, name-calling, belittling, or using discriminatory language. This kind of behaviour can make women feel uncomfortable, anxious, or fearful at work.

For instance, a woman may be subjected to verbal abuse by her boss, who constantly criticises her work and makes snide comments about her abilities. It may be subtle at first, but if it persists, it can take a toll on her mental and emotional well-being.

To recognize verbal abuse, one needs to be aware of the language being used in conversations. Words that are discriminatory, sexist, or demeaning can indicate verbal abuse. Moreover, if a woman feels uncomfortable or intimidated by someone’s words or tone, it is essential to take it seriously and address the issue.

  1. Intimidation:

Intimidation refers to any behaviour or action that is meant to make someone feel scared, threatened, or unsafe. It can be physical or emotional and is often used as a way to control or manipulate someone. For example, a woman may be threatened by a coworker who keeps invading her personal space or following her around.

To recognize intimidation, one needs to pay attention to the behaviour of others around them. Any behaviour that is perceived as threatening or makes someone feel uncomfortable should be taken seriously.

  1. Discrimination:

Discrimination is a practice that involves treating someone differently based on their race, gender, age, religion, or any other personal characteristic. Discrimination can take many forms such as unequal pay, denying promotions, or giving preferential treatment to certain employees.

For instance, a woman may be subjected to discrimination if she is paid less than her male counterparts for doing the same job. Such discrimination can have a negative impact on a woman’s self-esteem and confidence.

To recognize discrimination, one needs to pay attention to the way that others are treated in the workplace. If a woman feels that she is being treated unfairly or differently from others, it is essential to speak up and address the issue.

  1. Sexual Harassment:

Sexual harassment is any behavior that is unwanted, unwelcome, and is of a sexual nature. It can take many forms such as unwanted advances, physical contact, inappropriate comments or gestures, or displaying pornographic material.

For example, a woman may be subjected to sexual harassment if a coworker makes inappropriate comments about her appearance or makes unwanted physical contact.

To recognize sexual harassment, it is essential to be aware of what behavior is considered inappropriate or unwanted. Any behaviour that is sexually suggestive or makes someone feel uncomfortable or threatened should be taken seriously.

Here is a simple comparison that can help.

Subtle HarassmentOvert Harassment
Making inappropriate comments or jokesPhysical assault or threats
Withholding important information or resourcesDisplaying sexually explicit images or videos
Persistent unwelcome advances or requestsUsing explicit or vulgar language
Invading personal space or touching without consentStalking or following
Disparaging remarks or put-downsUsing discriminatory language or behaviour
Excluding or isolating someone from work-related activitiesRetaliation for reporting harassment

Please note that this is just an example and the different forms of harassment can often overlap and occur on a spectrum of severity. Always talk to HR or a lawyer before taking any action. 

Employers should take proactive steps to prevent harassment in the workplace, including providing training on what constitutes harassment, establishing clear policies and procedures for reporting and investigating harassment claims, and creating a culture of accountability and respect. By creating a safe and comfortable work environment, employees are more likely to thrive, leading to better performance, productivity, and employee retention.

In conclusion, it is essential for women to understand the various forms of harassment at work, including sexual harassment, and how to recognise them. By reporting incidents, women can help create a culture of accountability and prevent harassment from occurring in the workplace. It is the responsibility of employers to provide a safe and supportive work environment and take active steps to prevent harassment.