Sexual harassment is center-stage again with multiple media outlets covering multiple high-profile cases. No matter your field or industry no one should have to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. I’ve worked for many corporations and some that were heavily male-dominated. Thank God I’ve never had to deal with sexual harassment issues in the workplace, but sadly it’s a reality. A reality we too often ignore.
I’ve been wondering. Where do we draw the line? What are the boundaries that escalate from a playful joke to verbal to physical harassment?
Think about this, we spend 1/3 of our lives at work.
What if you are surrounded by your teammates day in and day out. You work in a casual environment where the culture is fun and relaxed. You want to fit in and get along with those you work with so it doesn’t make the weeks boring, miserable and painful.
But what happens when stories of the weekend are told – someone had too much to drink on their date – and ALL the nitty-gritty details get shared? What happens when funny YouTube videos get watched or emailed around the office that have a sexual slant? What happens when inappropriate jokes get told around the proverbial office water cooler?
Some participate and keep the conversation going and somehow something innocent turns from semi-inappropriate to OMG how did we get on this topic?!
Again, many people would probably just laugh it off, go to their next meeting, bathroom or somewhere else to get away from the awkward conversation. In these situations, it may seem pointless to speak up and say you feel uncomfortable about this topic when everyone is laughing.
Perhaps you keep your head down and go about your business not giving it another thought. Sooner or later you could even become desensitized to it all and start making comments yourself.
The boundaries get blurred and pushed.
Do these examples leave the door wide open for a situation that was meant to be verbally playful and harmless be a gateway to things turning physical?
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that each company is unique with their culture and employees.
At the end of the day, you have to decide what your own personal boundaries are and stick to them.
If something seems inappropriate to you maybe you should speak up, walk away, talk to your boss or go to your human resource department.
I believe corporate wellness is about creating a healthy organization from the inside out. Leadership is key to making this a reality and setting a positive example for all employees. You want your culture to be fun and relaxed, but you also want your employees to feel safe.
Maybe we don’t talk about sexual harassment in the workplace enough because the reality is that the topic itself is a bit awkward. We sweep it under the rug because it makes us uncomfortable.
The problem is there no matter if we keep it in the dark or shine a spotlight on it. It’s a delicate topic. It’s something that organizations and HR departments should re-examine.
What do you think? Sound off about sexual harassment in the workplace in the comments below.
Photo By Kristin Flour