Thought for the week

Addressing Sexual Harassment

The definition of sexual harassment is the “harassment, typically of women, in a professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks” (OED). 

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There are still 11 sexual assaults per hour (254 attacks every day) in the UK.

Recent events have produced a global outcry for female empowerment. The #MeToo campaign was shared in more than 12 million Facebook posts in the first 24 hours following the Weinstein revelations. It has now become the subject matter that organisations simply cannot avoid addressing.

We are living in a zeitgeist of growing outrage and protest. In order to better understand why sexual assault and inappropriate conduct are rife in our everyday lives, we need to understand what causes them to happen in the first place.

Rape, sexual assault and harassment are not just about sexual desire, but can be an expression of power, anger and frustration - in some instances acting as a reaction to societal displacement and a fear of rejection by women. Understanding the true scope of violence against women and girls is a difficult task - statistics remain woefully inadqequate in this, and are ordinarily an underestimation of true incidence. Though rape crime has been present since time immemorial, resistance to this and all other forms of sexual misconduct, have become more organised and more vociferous.

Resistance to change

Both male and female roles have shifted dramatically in recent decades, however these changing societal norms have not been universally welcomed. The pressure on men to be sole breadwinners and professional pacesetters have been shifted; a welcome relief for some, an identity crisis for others. Women are increasingly entering leadership roles in the workplace whilst also expecting the parental load to be shared at home. They are proving themselves to be adept and skilled at anything and everything. Changing times has created widespread confusion; sharing a spotlight understandably (though an unpopular opinion to admit to) creates anger and even resentment.  

So what makes men aggressive in the workplace? Men - and increasingly women - are encouraged to embrace only stereotypically male character traits at work. This pressure can be restricting and disempowering for men and creates leadership styles that are less considered and compassionate and more domineering. To crack down on inappropriate conduct at work it will therefore to essential to diversify how leadership can be expressed.

Consequences of changing power dynamics

Women are striving to empower and protect themselves against all types of abuses whilst many men are shrinking away from being in any kind of compromising situation with a woman. This fear of false accusation, may even go on to unfairly impact a woman’s employability. Whilst the #MeToo campaign has done so much to give many people a voice, it also has the potential to backfire if male anger and fearfulness is not acknowledged with action and consciously dealt with within an organisation.

The creation of safer working environments for both men and women is essential. It is up to men to step up and find the growth opportunities - both professional and personal - that are possible through a change of leadership mindset. Full inclusivity will bring new skills into a company, and will not take away the prospects of men.

Women must also lean into #MeToo

Women need to do their part to be clear about what constitutessexual harassment is and what it isn’t. If they feel able, they then should try to follow the due process that is available to them to report such offences - if these are not available then the advice of appropriate unions or specialist NGOs should be sought. Both genders have work to do.

The success of tomorrow based on the actions taken today

We work with business leaders to help them to create an empowering, healthy and inclusive culture. Better business practices make for psychologically safer and more productive environments.

Successful business leaders of the future will be those who:

●     are aware of the company culture they wish to create and all aspects of its reverberations

●     truly care for their people in the context of the wider environment and the company’s footprint

●     know what emotional injuries have been taking place in the business, what they are costing, and what early remedial action is required

●     teach mindfulness and create a space for it

●     recognise the importance of creating and nurturing a psychologically safe environment

Until young men and women entering business have learnt these skills in their upbringing, the leadership in companies must insist on a level of maturity and integrity in themselves and those they lead, and be constantly on the lookout for the repression of emotions, especially anger. When such repression is detected, organisations will greatly benefit from enabling their people to express their emotions in a safe and healthy way.

Let us embrace and acknowledge the differences between men and women with full, positive intent to truly get the best out of everyone. Once this is completely engrained, we can then begin to go beyond gender to take a human-centred approach to our lives at home, at work and the future ahead of us.

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Friday, April 12, 2019
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by Serenity in Leadership
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