According to a survey conducted by Prospect, more than a third of women have experienced sexual harassment at work, rising to two thirds of women under age 30. Keeping employees safe can be a complex issue for businesses, and victim-survivors can face many barriers when reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.
This means this behaviour often goes unreported, which is much worse because then you can’t do anything about it, either to support the individual or to prevent future instances.
And unfortunately, sexual harassment isn’t just reserved for the physical workplace. Recently, a new form of harassment called ‘zoombombing’ has developed. We’re taking a closer look at what ‘zoombombing’ is and what employers can do to stop harassment from happening online or in the office in this blog.
What is 'zoombombing'?
With the pandemic forcing many people to work from home, you might think that workplace sexual harassment would be reduced. However, this isn't the case. Instead, sexual harassment has evolved into a new method called ‘zoombombing’.
The campaign group MeTooEP carried out a report which defines ‘zoombombing’ as "relentlessly harassing an individual via video call." According to researchers, 16% of the 5,000 people they surveyed had experienced ‘zoombombing’, stalking or threats online since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“Now we are in confinement working from home, there is a whole new normal. Sexual harassment does not need people to be physically in the same place in order to take place. Working from home provides ways for new forms of sexual harassment to emerge. This is terrible as it is a fundamental part of being in a workplace to feel safe.” - Anni Hirvela, spokesperson for MeTooEP.
What can employers do to stop sexual harassment?
It’s the role of the employer and HR department to ensure your employees feel safe while at work, whether this is in the office or working at home. Unfortunately, one of the main causes of under-reported behaviour is the stigma and victim-blaming that’s attached.
The same survey by MeTooEP found almost half of the people polled said they were too scared to take further action when questioned about whether they’d asked for help following sexual harassment or other misconduct online.
A study by Poll International UK released in April 2020 found young women’s experiences of sexual harassment, including instances of men indecently exposing themselves, had grown worse over lockdown.
They polled more than 1,000 women aged between 14 and 21 and found that one in five women have experienced harassment on the streets since the government implemented stringent social distancing measures. A fifth of them also reported the issue of harassment has become worse during lockdown.
With sexual harassment figures increasing, it’s now more important than ever to fight the stigma and ensure victim-survivors are listened to, believed and appropriately supported. You wouldn’t ever want a case of somebody experiencing sexual harassment in your organisation, as well as the victim-survivor not reporting it because they fear they’re going to be blamed for what happened. The good news is that in your role, there’s so much you can do to break down the barriers to reporting.
Develop an effective anti-harassment policy
An effective anti-harassment policy should specify who's protected and state that sexual harassment is unlawful and will not be tolerated under any circumstances. It should also define what sexual harassment is and provide clear examples relevant to your working environment. Often people will hear the term ‘sexual harassment’ and think it only applies to the really serious stuff, but there is ‘less serious’ or more everyday behaviour that can still be classed as harassment, and you want to know about this so you can prevent it getting worse.
It’s also important that employees understand the reporting process, so outlines of your effective procedure for receiving and responding to complaints of harassment should also be included.
Engage your staff
Conducting regular 1-2-1s, surveys and exit interviews are great ways to receive employee feedback and find areas for improvement. With this knowledge, you can identify any potential issues and whether the steps you’re taking to reduce workplace harassment are working.
Exit interviews especially are a unique chance for you to learn from past experiences, and find out if there were any issues with sexual harassment that caused the employee to leave. Worrying about losing their job is a common reason employees don’t report, so they may be more honest in this forum. You can then use that feedback to make sure it doesn’t happen again and to empower people to speak out in future, reassuring them that there won’t be negative consequences to reporting.
When conducting these meetings or surveys, you can also take the time to make sure employees are aware of your anti-harassment policy (even if they’ve already been told once, it’s worth frequently reminding), how they can report harassment and what the consequences are of unacceptable behaviour.
Acknowledging and addressing barriers to reporting, ensuring appropriate pathways and mechanisms are in place and incidents are recorded thoroughly may lead to an initial spike in reported numbers. However, this is a wholly positive step in the right direction for your organisation as it will provide transparency on areas that need improvement.
Invest in training
For anti-harassment policies to work, employees must understand what harassment is. Investing in training about what sexual harassment in the workplace looks like, what employees should do if they experience it and how to handle any harassment complaints will work alongside your policy in reducing workplace harassment. Quite often leaders jump to ‘training’ as the immediate and only solution for tackling problems. This isn’t the case and training is just one (important) part of your wider anti-harassment strategy.
Implement a reporting system
Reporting sexual harassment in the workplace can be a daunting task for victim-survivors, so the process needs to be as easy as possible. A long, complicated reporting process may turn people away, causing incidents to go unreported. Also, there’s evidence to suggest that being forced to attach their name to a report puts off over 50% of people who have experienced something from reporting it.
A reporting software, like Culture Shift, enables your team to raise issues directly to you through a safe and secure online platform. When unacceptable behaviour has taken place in your organisation, our reporting software gives employees a place to speak out confidentially, with the option for anonymity if they wish.
Our simple-to-use reporting system increases the chances of incidents being reported to you as an organisation and offers enterprise-level security. As an employer, you’ll have peace of mind knowing data is being handled securely with two-factor authentication, single sign-on, end-to-end encryption, GDPR compliance and Cyber Essentials certification.
Not only does Culture Shift empower employees to speak up, but it also empowers employers. Using real-time data, you can spot trends early by analysing data as it comes in so you can be proactive and take preventative action. Plus, Culture Shift provides a deeper understanding of what’s happening throughout your organisation by filtering, segmenting and comparing data.
To experience the platform in action and to discover how Culture Shift can help provide the support your employees need, request a demo below.