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Silence in the workplace allows sexual harassment to thrive

The problem of sexual harassment is an international issue, not being exclusive to one gender, race or age group.

The #MeToo movement that went viral via Twitter last year gives a clear insight into the number of people that are affected by sexual harassment. The movement has given thousands of men and women a voice on the issue, with many people coming forward with things that happened to them a long time ago. This introduces the issue of ‘silence’…

Dulini Fernando conducted an extensive amount of research into sexual harassment within the workplace. She found who work within the engineering sector regularly encountered sex-based harassment.

“The academic sector… saw a rise of reported cases of sex-based harassment”

Fernando worked with Ajnesh Prasad in order to better understand how ‘silencing’ occurs. Their research focused on the academic sector, which saw a rise of reported cases of sex-based harassment. 31 academics from business schools across nine UK Universities were interviewed and all 31 said they shared their issues with the relevant departments (line managers, HR and colleagues), but they were consistently told to drop the problem and to try to move on from it.

Further, their study gaged that women are often told their experience did not constitute ‘harassment’ or told to be patient in waiting for the problem to be resolved. Often, the particular organisation or institution in which the harassment had occurred wanted to avoid all blame or part of the situation, acting evasively, as if above and separate from their workers.

Hence, the ‘silence’ surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace cannot be attached exclusively to the particular victim, with a hierarchy of people within the workplace being complicit in the harassment by encouraging the colleague to keep ‘silent’ or ‘calm’ about the situation.

“sexual harassment in the workplace is still a present and pressing issue… (an issue that) more time and attention needs to be spent on”

What we can take from this study is that sexual harassment within the workplace is still a present and pressing issue, something that more time and attention needs to be spent on by business owners and employees alike, who have colleagues who confide in them with these issues. The culture of ‘silence’ about sexual harassment in workplaces allows it to breed and worsen, allowing perpetrators to think they can get away with it because very often, they do.

At UoN we understand the severity of creating a safe space where students can feel comfortable to share their own experiences. UoN SU Equal Opportunities & Welfare Officer Zoe Mackenzie held the Speak Up Campaign last week to share information of what UON offers to support students. To see what they got up to click here.

Charlotte Hegley

Featured image courtesy of Rob Kall via Flickr. Image license here.

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