According to the Huffington Post, 1 in 3 women have been sexually harassed at the workplace. The article also suggests that only 29% of women who are harassed actually report it. According to UN figures, between 40 and 50% of women in the European Union experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact, verbal suggestions or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace. In Asia-Pacific countries, it is 30 to 40%.
Sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women normalize a culture of sexual violence however subtle or overt, and creates a very blatantly unequal work force environment that could affect how leaders execute hiring, layoffs or salary cuts decisions. When women and girls feel uncomfortable, have to miss work, or generally engage less because of fear and intimidation, productivity in the work place and mental health are affected. No matter where you are in the world, this persists despite different cultural norms and laws.
Leadership Plays a Large Role
Leadership has a lot to do with this. Servant leaders will work to develop a violent free and equal environment where women and men, boys and girls, feel comfortable working together. A servant leader will also be keen to nurture power dynamics that do not sustain gender blind structures. A servant leader, being cognizant of the role and positioning of people within the team as the ultimate competitive advantage, works towards a nuanced, deliberate understanding and analysis of gender dynamics in the workforce. This is the first step towards tackling sexual harassment, especially given the high number of instances of sexual harassment that go unreported because of fear.
It is not enough to understand power dynamics or work hard to establish a violence free and gender responsive work environment. There is still a need to establish structures, systems and policies that will create a redress mechanism for victims. Such can be achieved through embracing competency based leadership that will intensively lay out indicators for sexual harassment reporting channels, and maintain and assure confidentiality to guarantee victim safety.
Beyond Leadership to Challenging Harmful Socialization Norms
Economic, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and racial inequalities are widespread. Inequality and especially gender inequality has led to some very interesting scenarios in the global workforce, namely, unequal labor force participation between men and women, a grossly wide gender pay gap, and rampant sexual harassment at the work place.
We have all been nurtured and socialized in societies that have normalized certain unhealthy perceptions about gender roles. This is coupled with an overt imbalance in power relationships between males and females. Leaders have to be very deliberate to go beyond socialization when acting to tackle issues such as sexual harassment because it is easy to fall back into what has been normalized. Leaders have to be courageous to tackle sexual harassment because of the stigma and silence that has been associated with the issue.
Leaders need to see their role and position as requiring them to be accountable to all at the workplace including women and girls. The accountability stretches beyond financial to teammates’ well-being.
We all have a responsibility to breed violence free societies!