How to Spot Signs of Sexual Harassment and Act on Them

Ever since the allegations against the famous (now infamous) Hollywood celebrity, Harvey Weinstein, about sexual harassment broke out, there has been a flurry of women across the political, economic, social, and entertainment world who have come forward detailing their own experiences with sexual harassment.

Also, with noted Silicon Valley firms being accused of covering up cases of sexual harassment as well as Gig Economy firms such as Uber being forced to change its entire board due to the misconduct of its employees and even the founder, there has been much activity related to sexual harassment allegations.

Moreover, with the #MeToo campaign where women across the world have been detailing their experiences with sexual harassment on Social Media, organizations worldwide can no longer be content with enacting rules and regulations as well as announcing policies that promise a discrimination-free working environment.

On the contrary, they have to “walk the talk” and act against serial harassers as well as those who perpetrate a culture of denial and cover-ups of cases of sexual harassment. This means that it is better for firms worldwide to have dedicated resources that can spot the signs of sexual harassment early on and preempt and prevent possible incidents that can tarnish their reputations as well as lead to expensive lawsuits and other monetary and non-monetary losses.

To start with, there are enough signs that indicate sexual harassment such as some employees asking or even forcing women employees to stay on after work hours and to require them to spend some time with them ostensibly for official work but in reality, just to have the chance to engage in sexual harassment.

Indeed, in our experience, we have come across many cases where these initial requests begin harmlessly enough so that no one suspects that there is anything remiss about such requests.

Only when the women who are the target of such unwelcome and unwanted not to mention unsolicited advances speak out that often leads to full-blown incidents of sexual harassment.

Further, many possible and potential acts of sexual harassment begin innocuously enough and hence, it should indeed be the case that firms and the HR (Human Resource) managers “keep their eyes open and ears to the ground” so that they can identify potential predators as well as preempt and prevent possible incidents of sexual harassment.

Next, many cases of sexual harassment also begin with small talk and informal banter that does not indicate future behavior that is sexual in nature. Indeed, there are many instances of women and men employees chatting over coffee or tea or snacks wherein the conversation is polite only to the point where it turns to gender roles and other sensitive topics.

While we do not want to say that all such banter can lead to sexual harassment, the most important or pertinent point here is that for the trained eye, these early signs should not be ignored and indeed, acted upon as well.

For instance, informal banter often masks the true intentions of serial harassers who use such occasions to ingratiate themselves with women. Also, innuendo-laden talk and conversations with hidden meanings related to sexual matters often can lead to more serious instances of sexual harassment.

Thus, it is the case that the HR personnel comes up with specific guidelines that indicate how the women employees can report such behavior early on that can lead to many benefits regarding preempting and preventing sexual harassment.

As has repeatedly been mentioned in this article, it is important to spot the signs of sexual harassment early on to save much trouble to everyone.

Apart from this, many instances of sexual harassment often start with the men (often in managerial positions) being entangled with women employees either of their same ranks or more often, their subordinates wherein there is consensual relationship between them that can lead to other incidents where it becomes very difficult for both the women and the firms to prove sexual harassment.

In other words, initially consensual relationships between men and women employees can turn serious due to any number of reasons and hence, it is indeed the case that firms and the HR managers do their best to list down the rules of conduct for all employees detailing where the responsibility of the organization ends and where the personal responsibility of the concerned employees begins.

Moreover, many cases of sexual harassment also happen on overseas trips and domestic outstation trips where the men and women employees often have time and the luxury of distance to enter into romantic and other entanglements.

Thus, the organizations and the HR Managers must also come out with specific guidelines on whose responsibility it is to ensure that such entanglements do not lead to ugly incidents in the future.

While all this can seem that we are suggesting that workplace culture be devoid of fun, we must point out that our intention here is to suggest and recommend guidelines of conduct that specify and draw the line to the need for all employees, whether managers or executives, whether men or women, or whether senior or junior ones, to behave in ways that would ensure future cases of sexual harassment are avoided that can threaten not only the organizations but also the employees themselves.

Indeed, there is no point in complaining later wherein it becomes difficult to the women to prove charges of sexual harassment or to absolve themselves of blame as well as to expect the organizations to come to their help.

To conclude, our advice to all stakeholders is to spot signs of harassment early on and take action lest it leads to bitterness all around.


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