Tips for Dealing with Sexual Harassment In the Workplace
by Ava Miles
It’s nothing less than tragic when a woman is pursuing her dream career and there’s a powerful man and a system in place to perpetuate the old story that a woman has to trade sex for what she wants. The Harvey Weinstein situation is all the more disturbing because there was a machine in place to both enable his behavior and punish people if they spoke up or said no. The message this sends to women is dangerous and damaging because it demonstrates the price of going after your dream and the cost if you have self-worth and refuse.
It also demonstrates how ill-equipped we are as women to both express our truth (either by saying no or reporting the crime) and know how to handle situations like this while keeping our reputations intact. Fear and punishment are running the day. We need new models of communication and strategies for how to speak up and hold people accountable even in the face of a machine like this. Here are a few ideas for how both women and men can begin to defuse, manage, and ultimately dismantle systemized workplace harassment.
3 Sexual Harassment Tips for Women
- Call the shots: Do all you can to create situations where you are calling the shots when meeting with a known or potential harasser. Keep meeting doors open. Suggest or pre-emptively reserve more public meeting spaces. Invite a trusted third party, even if you have to invent a reason (i.e., an assistant to take notes, another team member who can add value to the conversation).
- Use humor: You can opt to keep things light with a harasser to preserve your career reputation while also laying clear boundaries. For example, I once had a senior executive at a job I loved ask me to attend an important client dinner. He said that I could come as long as I wore a certain black dress he had seen me wear months earlier. Choosing my words carefully, I joked that if I didn’t know him better I’d think he was asking me something that would interest HR. That nipped the situation in the bud without ruining anyone’s reputation.
- Prioritize your physical safety: If you are in a situation where your physical safety is in jeopardy, remove yourself immediately by any means necessary. This may mean sacrificing your pride to preserve your safety. For example, you can pretend to have food poisoning and start to throw up. You can belch or fart and run out as if it’s purely because you’re embarrassed. Yes, you will be embarrassed, but it’s better than being assaulted. Or you can suddenly remember an emergency phone call you forgot to make. Go with what comes to you in the moment and get out of there.
3 Tips for Men Who Want Harassment-Free Workplaces
There are plenty of great men out there who believe in gender equality and stand against sexual harassment. Many of them wish they knew how to make a difference in supporting a safe workplace for all employees. Share these tips with any men in your office who want to co-create safe workspaces.
- Lead by example. When you’re present and colleagues start engaging in so-called “locker-room talk” or speak unprofessionally about a female colleague, let them know it’s not okay by calling it out, using humor to deflect it, or excusing yourself from the discussion. If you’re in a management position, you might have a one-on-one with the male employee to make sure he understands you have a zero-tolerance policy.
- Don’t be clueless. Ask trusted female colleagues about whether they have experienced sexual harassment. Some men I’ve worked with mention being ignorant about what many women go through in the workforce. Learn what’s “out there” so you don’t unknowingly put a female colleague in an uncomfortable situation. For example, don’t ask for a Skype call with two traveling male and female colleagues without realizing they may have to call from one person’s hotel room. Offer other ways to maintain professional contact — something as simple as suggesting they rent a hotel conference room or propping the hotel room door open if budget is an issue. These small acts add up to combat a systematic problem.
- Go beyond the open-door policy. Get up to speed with what’s really going on with female employees in your company, especially if you’re in management. When I worked for a Fortune 500 company, our manager used technology to create an anonymous roundtable in which employees could provide feedback in a group setting on various topics. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about whether female employees feel like sexual harassment is an issue or if they believe it’s taken seriously. Yes, there are legal issues to consider here, but general questions will elicit important information that can be followed up on.
All of these tips can help us move collectively in the direction of curing the workplace of sexual harassment issues. Even with support and strategies in place, though, we women ultimately need to have courage. We need to have faith we will be heard, respected, and believed. We need to demand it if necessary through the law. And then we need to teach this to other women and men since this reality doesn’t seem to be going away.
About the Author:
International bestselling author Ava Miles calls herself a divine rockstar — something she believes everyone is deep down. Her all-new book series, “The Goddess Guides to Being A Woman,” invites us all to reimagine what it means to be a modern woman — on our own terms. One particular book in the series (“Goddesses Deserve the Gs: Relinking Self-Worth with Material Abundance”) addresses the joys and challenges of being a woman in the workforce. Join Ava in letting the brilliance of your true goddess nature — and that of all the girls and women in your life — shine through. For more information, visit www.AvaMiles.com.