Strategies for Dealing With Sexual Harassment

TONE networks panelists talk about Sexual Harassment

When I am around a group of businesswomen, I often am stunned by how many of them say they have experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct at work. In light of the #MeToo movement, I feel hopeful that bad behavior is going to improve going forward: After All, #TimesUp. Right?

However, if you find yourself on the unwanted received end of sexual harassment, or if you find yourself in a hostile workplace, there are strategies to handle those scenarios.

Fortunately, to detail those strategies, TONE Networks held a Facebook Live event called Workplace Playbook for Women: The Right Response to Wrong Behavior.

The lineup: Liz Weaver O’Keefe,  Dr. Ramani DurvasulaValerie Grubb .

tackling sexual harassment

Here are the strategies they shared:

Know your company policy.

Valerie Grubb, a workplace coach and HR expert, told the audience: “Be very familiar with your employer’s policy and procedures. Information is power and you need to understand what your rights are. If you don’t follow policy, you can negate your ability or rights to file for sexual harassment.”

Most policies tell employees to report bad behavior immediately, usually to human resources. But what happens if you don’t have an HR department or if HR tells you to suck it up and don’t rock the boat? Grubb offered this advice:  “Look for someone outside of HR you could go to, maybe someone in legal that you trust.”

Collect documentation.

Whether the bad behavior is an ongoing problem or one-time event, when you report misconduct or harassment, bring any documentation you can get. You will need documentation. What should that documentation look like? Grubb said it should look like this: “Here’s what happened, here’s what I did about it.”

Have an action plan.

To tackle the bad behavior in the moment, you have options. Dr. Ramani Durvasula said she realizes that when misconduct happens, the receiver often is in state of shock and usually either screams or stays silent. “You’ve got to learn from each one of these events,” she said.  “The next time, be ready. Have your well thought out response in the back of your mind.”

If touching or groping is involved, tackle the bad behavior head on, Dr. Durvasula says. For example, you could say, “Wow that was really awkward, particularly with all the headlines going on right now” or you could say, “I don’t appreciate your behavior or comment and I need it to stop.”  The important thing, she emphasized, is that you need to make the harasser understand his behavior is not appreciated. She acknowledged that some people never will admit to bad behavior. “Those are more toxic individuals,” she said.

Don’t be intimidated.

It’s rather typical to worry that reporting misconduct will cost you your job, especially if the perpetrator has power. If HR is not going to help you and finding another job is not be an option, try to find a champion in your company, someone who can help you, Grubb suggested. At the end of the day, if you are telling HR or legal that you have an issue, and they do nothing about it,  you have to quit, she said. “If you’ve been documenting information, it might be worth going to a lawyer, or the EEOC, or legal aid.”

Stick up for others.

If you notice a male supervisor  a female employee, speak up.

“Put on your women’s ears,” Dr. Durvasula said. “Listen for the interruptions when another woman is presenting her point in a meeting. When she is interrupted by a male, say ‘hey we didn’t get to hear the rest of what Val said.’ Then turn toward her and ask ‘Val what were you going to say?’ ”

If you see a woman being treated inappropriately, call attention to it to empower her. Dr. Durvasula suggests saying: “I’m so sorry. I just saw that and you did nothing wrong.”

To all women, she advises:  “When another woman is suffering, it is your business, too, so speak up.”

Say no firmly. 

TONE network’s Liz O’Keefe asked the panelists how to handle awkward date requests in the workplace. “If someone at work continues to ask you out after you have repeatedly said no, you need to be incredibly clear that you are not interested,” Grubb said.  Say something like, “I don’t appreciate that you keep asking me out. I need you to stop.”

Another awkward scenario might occur when joking around turns offensive.

“I will say funny joke and someone takes to next level,” Grubb said. “That’s when you need to sit and in a calm voice have a conversation and outline the boundaries.”

Put yellers in perspective

How do you handle a yeller or screamer in the workplace? There is not a simple answer, and yet, yelling is not considered sexual harassment, even if it’s a way of asserting control. Grubb said she has handled yellers by replying back calmly.  O’Keefe raised the question of how to react when just the opposite occurs:  a male client or boss calls you sweetie. Dr. Durvasula offered an easy response: “Call him sweetie right back.”

As Ave Rio at pointed out, leaders will have to decide whether they want to make preventing sexual harassment in the workplace a C-suite priority in 2018. Fortunately, nearly 9 in 10 employees think they will, according to a recent survey by Next Concept HR Association.

I am hoping next time the topic of sexual harassment comes up in a large room of businesswomen, the conversation will have changed. For the better.

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