to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond

Tip #1 — SEXUAL HARASSMENT: GETTING WITH THE PROGRAM

The #MeToo movement is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault which started in 2006, but came to great prominence after an article appeared on October 5, 2017 in the New York Times exposing the decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. In just the year which followed that article, I believe there has been more written, discussed, investigated and reported about sexual harassment, than in all the decades since the term’s origins. This is a very good thing as it’s exposing a dark and dangerous part of behaviour that is irritating at the least, and devastating at the most, predominantly against women in the workplace. But let’s step back a little to discuss the origins of sexual harassment in Canada…

 

In 1989, then-Chief Justice Brian Dixon of the Supreme Court of Canada, in a unanimous decision, said "sexual harassment in the workplace may be broadly defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that detrimentally affects the work environment or leads to adverse job-related consequences for the victims of the harassment. It is...an abuse of power... [that] attacks the dignity and self-respect of the victim both as an employee and as a human being."

 

Standing the test of time, that decision serves to define sexual harassment in Canada. To prove sexual harassment, a person needs to show they have endured unwelcome sexual attention and that it had detrimental or negative consequences. While the consequences can be the classic, "You show me some sexual attention and I'll let you keep your job," they don't have to go that far. A person who endures provocative pictures sent by email or text, or sexual jokes told in the lunchroom, is often a person being subjected to sexual harassment. This is often referred to as a tainted, poisoned or hostile work environment.

 

Since the courts have ruled that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, treating women negatively while treating men positively can constitute sexual harassment. In other words, if snide or rude comments are made to women but not to men, and they negatively impact the women's workplace comfort level, this is sexual harassment. The reverse is also true if men are the predominant targets.

 

I’ve become friends with one of the two women who brought the complaint which led to the Supreme Court decision. Dianna Janzen told me of the immense pressures she and her colleague faced to not rock the boat. After all these years, and with so much education about sexual harassment, unfortunately there are still great pressures NOT to speak up about sexual harassment with fears of retribution. The #MeToo movement has helped to expose a lot, but it’s up to each person and supervisor to ensure every person refrain from sexual harassment, and when it does happen, that the behaviour is stopped immediately. I find it odd just saying that more work has to be done after all these years of talking about it…but it does.

 

SUPERVISORY SUGGESTIONS:

  1. Continue to educate – as it’s needed. While we’ve had more education on this subject than people may like, it’s worth repeating. One person can handle various jokes, gestures, facial expressions and written words as innocent. However, another person can take these things very different. It’s best to discuss what’s acceptable and what’s not.

  2. Call it what it is: sexual harassment - not as a threat, but so it's not diminished. You don't have to shout it from the roof tops, but if a man (for example) is clearly sexually harassing a woman at work, then call him aside quickly and tell him what he's doing, why it’s wrong, why it's sexual harassment and the consequences if the behaviour continues.

  3. Talk to the person affected – as this person is sometimes left out. Talk to the harassed person to get their side of the situation. This person may have more to add than what you've just observed. Let them know what you're going to do and be sure to follow up after you've talked to the person who’s been doing the harassing.

This is TIP #1 of 26 BI-WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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