How Women Can Best Handle Harassment in the Workplace

Since the “Me Too” movement began, workplace harassment cases are increasingly coming to light. Harassment has absolutely no place in the workplace, but that doesn’t stop it from happening — especially to women. In fact, NPR reported that 81% of women have experienced some sort of harassment in the workplace, though most of them don’t feel comfortable reporting the issue. Given that information, how might women go about addressing harassment in the workplace? 

What is harassment exactly, and what should you do if you experience it in the workplace?

By definition, harassment is physical or verbal conduct that shows hostility towards someone based on their age, disability, gender, race, religion, or skin color. This can include slurs, stereotyping, threats, or other hostile acts related to the person’s identity or disability. It may also include physical materials that show hostility towards a group or person. A perpetrator typically has the intention of creating a hostile work environment for a group or for one person specifically. This can have an impact on the person’s work performance and may impact future employment opportunities depending on the harasser’s position in the company.

By law, employees are entitled to a work environment free of harassment, intimidation, insult, ridicule that is based on color, gender, nationality, or race. As mentioned above, “Me Too” brought more attention to the harassment occurring in the workplace based on gender, specifically in regards to sexual harassment. This has led to increased understanding sexual harassment and consent, or at the very least, made companies take it more seriously. 

Many individuals still have to deal with microaggressions based on how they identify. If you have been made to feel uncomfortable based on your gender, race, or otherwise, you’ve been a victim of harassment. If you’ve experienced this, what are the steps you should take to resolve the issue?

Contact Human Resources

Maintaining healthy boundaries is an important thing that women should feel empowered to do in professional relationships. If these boundaries are crossed, taking the problem to HR is a good solution. The human resources department will be able to educate you about policies, conduct workplace investigations and take action to resolve the issue.

After contacting HR, the department should perform an investigation. Once an investigation begins, HR should do its best to protect the woman as the accuser. The department should also seek other victims. Once they’ve taken these steps and the claims have been proven, the perpetrator should be terminated.

Communicate With Your Peers

Communication is a skill that is necessary for healthy workplace relationships. If something is happening within your workplace, you need to communicate with others. First, communicate with HR, then discuss the issue with trusted coworkers. You never know — they may be experiencing the same thing you are.

Having open communication with people at work will help you feel more comfortable reporting the issue and aid you through the investigation. However, the issue isn’t always resolved with the outcome you would hope for. Sometimes the perpetrator isn’t found “guilty.” In that case, you may consider leaving your position, especially if the harassment continues.

Harassment is serious and if your claims aren’t being taken seriously, you should consider resigning. Even though you’re the victim in the situation, it is important to leave the workplace in a professional manner. Give adequate notice, which the general consensus for most places is two weeks. You should also write a resignation letter.

Some employers will ask you to leave directly after receiving a resignation notice, so be prepared. Once you do this, you can set yourself up for success in your next career move. Not to mention, you’ll be able to get past this troubling time in the workplace.

Use the Experience To Your Benefit

Soft skills such as communication and conflict management are a huge asset that businesses look for when hiring. If you’re looking for new work after a harassment complaint, use it to your advantage. Talk about how you communicated the issues with your employers. Express how you handled the situation and inquire about how they handle and view workplace harassment.

Combating Harassment and Inequality in the Workplace

If you decide to stay, there are things you can continue to do within the workplace to handle the situation.

First, be aware of your rights and don’t be afraid to press for equality. If you see others, specifically an entire group of people, getting special treatment, speak up. Additionally, if a group or single individual is making you feel uncomfortable, speak up.

Don’t be afraid to address pay disparities. There are gaps in pay for different positions. However, if you have the same position and same qualifications as someone else, you should have an equal pay grade. Many employers will quote progress or statistics for pay increases. Be sure to document any progress you see within your daily tasks to combat this.

Always ask for ways to improve. If you feel you are being harassed based on your gender but they cite your work quality as the issue, ask for areas of improvement. If they provide areas where you can improve, focus on them.

Lastly, take a good look at how your company communicates about equality and puts it into practice. If the company isn’t the best at providing equality for its employees, you may not get the results you want, no matter how you navigate the issues. You may want to consider leaving for a new company with a zero-tolerance view on harassment.

All in all, it is never worth it to stay in a workplace where you aren’t happy. Even though the money may seem like it’s worth it, you are putting yourself and your mental stability in jeopardy. Use the methods above to help deal with — or get out of — the situation.

Indiana Lee

Indiana Lee lives in the Northwest and has a passion for the environment and wellness. She draws her inspiration from nature and makes sure to explore the outdoors on a regular basis. Indiana loves experiencing new things and sharing with others what she learns through her writing. You can chat with Indiana on twitter @IndianaLee3