Studies have shown that bystanders are often silent when they witness sexual harassment at work - even in law firms. Harriet Stacey outlines how employees can take a stand.
There are many competing reasons why some work colleagues do nothing about sexual harassment. They may be concerned about taking sides, fear losing their job, believe they are not personally offended by the misconduct or simply be reluctant to make a complaint against a more senior member of staff.
But witnesses should take a stand against improper conduct at work.
A national phone survey conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission found 84 per cent of sexual harassment incidents in the workplace were not reported.
This means only 16 per cent who had been sexually harassed during this period formally reported it or made a complaint.
The survey released late last year was conducted over a five-year period to measure the extent of sexual harassment among Australian workers.
Of those who did not make a complaint about sexual harassment the survey found that 50 per cent didn't think it was serious enough or were fearful of a negative impact on themselves, 21 per cent had a lack of faith in the complaint process and 29 per cent took care of the problem themselves.
If you witness behviour that could amount to sexual harassment there are some things you can, and should, do.
Firstly, ask the person being harassed, "Are you okay with that? Do you want me to say anything?"
Secondly, if it's not appropriate conduct you can complain - even though you may not be offended by it.
Thirdly, make a note of what you have seen and how people responded.
And fourthly, tell the person being harassed you will make a note. They may need it later. Lack of evidence is a key barrier to making a complaint. As an observer you can provide the evidence.
If you're worried about taking sides, just record what you saw and heard - just the facts. There is no need to interpret. If needed, your comments will either support or refute a complaint. That may be all that is needed.
Complaints of sexual harassment are often only made when the victim has been discriminated against, passed over for promotion, shortlisted for redundancy or failed a performance review. In such cases complaints may be designed to postpone an adverse decision.
Often victims believe they have been "managing" the bad behaviour by a colleague and so do nothing - sometimes for fear of losing their job.
But often doing nothing is more harmful to their career than speaking out.
Harriet Stacey is the co-founder and principal of Wise Workplace Investigations.
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