This publication is also available online in a web-accessible version at https://pub.norden.org/nord2021-029/
In the Nordic region, sexual harassment is prohibited, both in workplaces and in society as a whole. Employers have a special obligation to stop and prevent sexual harassment at workplaces, but also to promote a secure working environment that is free of harassment. In conjunction with the #metoo testimonies, attention was also drawn to sexual harassment at many workplaces, for example through specific questionnaires. Throughout the Nordic region, a number of initiatives were implemented to strengthen legislation on these issues. The theme also led to various investigations, handbooks, and other initiatives to bring about change at workplaces.
This handbook is the result of one of these initiatives. At the meeting of the Nordic Council of Ministers for Legislative Issues on 1 June 2018 in Lund, Sweden, Finland’s Minister of Justice Antti Häkkänen (Juha Sipilä’s Government 2015-2019) proposed that a Nordic Metoo handbook on best practice be drawn up, along with models for intervention in harassment cases at the Judicial Administration.
Behind Häkkänen’s proposal was that many Finnish trade unions had reported on their members’ experiences of sexual harassment in working life. In addition, many of those persons exposed to sexual harassment felt that the case had not been resolved, despite informing managers or other employer representatives. The proposal also stated that there was much to develop in terms of practical measures to prevent and intervene in cases of sexual harassment.
As the judicial administrations of the Nordic countries and the autonomous regions have a broad spectrum of areas of activity, and deviate from each other on many points, the Nordic Council of Ministers decided to aim this handbook at all Nordic judiciaries and collaboration partners.
Ekvalita, a company that works with gender equality and equal treatment issues, was commissioned to draw up a handbook on prevention and practical work that would address the theme at greater depth than many existing books. Ekvalita has extensive experience of working with sexual harassment at everything from ministries and universities to companies and associations.
In drawing up the handbook, we at Ekvalita chose to present sexual harassment according to the method, “Four steps to change”, which supports qualitative work to bring about change. We also chose to highlight tangible and clear examples from the Nordic countries and the autonomous regions to demonstrate examples of common practice. Instead of focusing on judicial activities or national legislation in the Nordic countries and the autonomous regions, this handbook focuses on personnel policy. The handbook is aimed at employees in the judiciaries, representing a wide range of professional groups, from cleaners and security personnel to secretaries, clerks of the court, and judges. Interviews have been held with representatives of the judicial authorities in the Nordic countries and the autonomous regions. Researchers, trade union representatives, trade associations, and law students have also been able to give their views.
We have placed particular emphasis on parts of the work to bring about change that usually or completely lack precise descriptions, such as how to understand a subjective definition of sexual and gender-based harassment, and how perpetrators of harassment can operate. The handbook also contains practical tips for use in the work to prevent harassment. We are convinced that the handbook can also be used as a source of inspiration in other sectors and public agencies.
Thanks are extended to the reference group and others who have contributed to the handbook:
The #MeToo movement comprises various hashtags for drawing attention to and demanding a stop to sexual harassment and sexual violence, particularly against women. Already in 2006, the first to encourage women to say “me too” was Tarana Burke, with the aim of supporting black girls exposed to sexual violence. But it was not until 2017 that the #metoo movement broke through internationally, when the actor Alyssa Milano, inspired by Burke’s call for action, sent a tweet that led to the hashtag, and later testified about her own experiences of sexual harassment. In June 2019, various versions of the hashtag had been used 36 million times in 196 countries.
Sexual harassment is behaviour of a sexual nature that violates an individual’s dignity, such as an undesirable and unwelcome look, comments, or physical touching with a sexual undertone. Sexual harassment contributes to creating a threatening, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or oppressive atmosphere.
It is always the person who is exposed to sexual harassment who decides whether the behaviour is appropriate or not. Below are some examples of how sexual harassment can be manifested. If there is consent, these situations need not necessarily be interpreted as sexual harassment.
(Edilex, transl. Maria Normann, 11.12.2015).
(#milläoikeudella, Tumblr, transl. Malin Gustavsson, 10.2.2020).
Harassment due to gender concerns unwelcome behaviour that is not sexualised, but is only linked to gender. It can involve actions directed towards one or more employees in an offensive way and can lead to ill-health or ostracism from the work community.
Gender-based harassment can, for example, take the following forms:
The Council of Europe defines sexism as follows: Any act, gesture, visual representation, spoken or written words, practice or behaviour based upon the idea that a person or a group of persons is inferior because of their sex, which occurs in the public or private sphere, whether online or offline, with the purpose or effect of:
The ILO Violence and Harassment Convention describes these as a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual, or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment. The expression ‘gender-based violence and harassment’ means violence and harassment that is disproportionately directed at persons because of their sex or gender or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, and includes sexual harassment.
In cases of sexual or gender-based harassment, it is always the person exposed to the harassment who decides whether what is happening is welcome or not. This is called having interpretative prerogative, and in this case refers to the subjective experience of the exposed person. The aim of the perpetrator or perpetrators with the treatment, and how witnesses and other persons perceive what happened, are not significant in defining what happened. If the case is taken to court, the issue is determined according to applicable law.
Perpetrators act without self-critically observing or noticing how the colleague, manager, employee, or the client experiences the situation. From the perpetrator’s perspective, their assessment of what is appropriate, fun, or professional treatment is more important than the exposed person’s assessment. One way of exercising this power (to take interpretative prerogative from the exposed person) is to invalidate the exposed person’s perception of what happened. This may involve dismissing or minimising a person who speaks out by commenting that the person is oversensitive and easily offended, or by dismissing their perception of the incident by saying, “I didn’t mean it like that”. In this context, it is worth remembering that the intention plays less of a role than how the exposed person is affected by the action.
Consent is a voluntary and clear expression of will that means that an action is mutual between two or more persons, such as consent to physical contact, flirting, or sex. The simple lack of the word ‘no’ is not sufficient to ensure consent. The basic principle is consent, not a lack of veto.
It is always worth asking for consent. In situations concerning gender, intimacy and sexuality, a request for consent is recommended. For example, someone could ask directly whether the person in question wants a hug or massage, or if it is okay to place a hand on their shoulder.
According to the UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, a victim of crime is the person who is exposed to crime. The definition does not just apply to the plaintiff, but to everyone exposed to the crime. Apart from the people directly subjected to the crime, the definition of victims of crime includes close family, other close relatives, and persons who suffered injury because they intervened to try to stop a crime.
The term ‘victim’ has been criticised for being a label and having an undertone of passivity. The terms ‘exposed person’ or ‘survivor’ are used instead. These terms are also useful because they are less tied to a legal definition of crime. The term ‘survivor’ implies agency and hope, that life goes on and that someone can survive what occurred. In this handbook, we have chosen to use the term ‘exposed person’ throughout.
When an employer becomes aware that harassment has occurred, they are obliged to immediately (defined in more detail in each country) investigate and take action against harassment and sexual harassment. ‘Becoming aware’ includes everything from hearing rumours to receiving a formal complaint. The employer’s obligation concerns all personnel, including interns and agency staff.
Everyone can be exposed to sexual harassment, but research shows that it is less probable that everyone will be exposed or will be a perpetrator. Research shows that sexual harassment follows the same power structures as when inequality is created and expressed between different population groups (for example on the basis of characteristics or identities under the discrimination grounds).
In the Nordic countries, exposure to sexual harassment is measured locally through internal staff questionnaires at workplaces, through trade union member questionnaires, or more general national surveys (commissioned by, for example, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health Issues in Finland, the Public Health Agency of Sweden, Statistics and Research Åland, and Det Nationale Forskningscenter for Arbejdsmiljø in Denmark), sometimes serving as background to work relating to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). International research shows that students, young women, women with precarious employment positions, and particularly women in minorities (ethnicity, functional variation, and sexuality) are more exposed to sexual harassment than other groups. For figures relating to the judicial sector, see the chapter Sexual harassment in the judicial sector and courts.
When harassment becomes part of everyday life, it becomes difficult to see, identify, and point out. It could be said that harassment becomes normalised, which can result in certain people seeing harassment as an unavoidable part of everyday life or no longer reacting to improper comments, looks, or being touched on the backside. Sexual harassment is experienced by many people as an unavoidable part of being young or having a certain gender identity. Such normalisation continues into later life, and also into working life, both for the person exposed to and the perpetrator of harassment. Normalisation is seen, for example, when women change their behavioural patterns to avoid exposure, such as not sharing a taxi or lift with a certain colleague or are advised to learn to live with hearing comments about their bodies. As sexual harassment occurs throughout life, there is probably an abundance of different harassment experiences from both working and private life in different personnel groups.
At my workplace, one of the many male lawyers was known for inviting out young women, but also for making other suggestions. He also looked openly at photos of prostitutes and pornography online (we had workrooms with glass walls). Complaints were made about these incidents to the manager. The manager took the view that it was harmless, and that we could look away instead.(’Työpaikallani eräs miesjuristi oli tunnettu siitä, että hän pyyteli ulos uusia nuoria naisia, ja teki muunkinlaisia ehdotuksia. Hän myös katseli avoimesti prostituoitujen kuvia ja pornoa netistä (meillä on lasiseinäiset työhuoneet). Molemmista asioista valitettiin esimiehelle. Hän oli sitä mieltä, ettei haukku haavaa tee ja katseensa voi kääntää pois. ’)
(#milläoikeudella, Tumblr, transl. Malin Gustavsson, 10.2.2020).
There has been little research on the type of people that harass others, and focus has been on men who harass. According to two American reviews of research in the field (Neall and Tuckey, 2014; Pina, Gannon & Saunders, 2009), the following can be noted:
The same research reviews show that possible conditions behind a person engaging in harassment are the following:
Sexual harassment occurs throughout society, including in the judicial sector and courts.
In 2017, people exposed to sexual harassment in the judicial sector in Sweden launched a campaign with testimonies under the hashtag #medvilkenrätt. A total of 5965 women in the legal sector joined the campaign. In the following year, the country’s law students initiated a new campaign, #upptillbevis, calling for a more gender-equal working life.
In 2017 in Finland, the #milläoikeudella campaign was launched, which was a statement against sexual harassment in the judiciary. The campaign was signed by 800 women in the legal sector, and their testimonies on sexual harassment, discrimination, and sexism have been collected and published on a Tumblr page. Those responding to the campaign demanded action by the Association of Finnish Lawyers, the Finnish Bar Association, and universities.
The Swedish campaign within the lawyer and solicitor sector prompted the Norwegian Association of Lawyers to carry out a survey on sexual harassment among its members in 2018, and later also carried out an internal survey. The survey showed that 20 percent of the 4844 respondents had experienced sexual harassment. This prompted the Norwegian Association of Lawyers, together with the Norwegian Bar Association and the Faculty of Law at Oslo University, to raise the issue, showing it applies to all parts of the judicial environment, from university studies to working life.
The trade unions’ member questionnaires and reported cases from courts around the Nordic region show that the judicial sector is not free from sexual harassment. In the Nordic countries, the critical situation at individual courts and law firms has also reached the media and led to special investigations and initiatives. The testimonies in the Swedish campaign #medvilkenrätt and the Finnish #millaoikeudella showed that the experiences of sexual harassment in the judicial sector are similar to those in other sectors.
In 2015, after an internal investigation revealed alarming findings, the Chancellor of Justice in Finland requested that Helsinki Court of Appeal investigate its judges’ internal use of language. The investigation showed that language use with a sexual undertone was common in everyday work, and that both verbal and physical harassment occurred at parties. Particularly serious was that racist jokes, improper language use about people exposed to sexual crimes and prostitutes, and improper and insulting statements about sexual and ethnic minorities occurred in the Court of Appeal.
In 2017, one year before the lawyer and solicitor sector started to draw attention to sexual harassment, the Faculty of Law at Oslo University received a report that, among other things, showed that sexual harassment occurred in the faculty. In 2019, new guidelines were drawn up for the country’s three law faculties.
A questionnaire that the Swedish Bar Association sent to its members in 2017 showed that approximately half of the respondents reported that they had seen a colleague exposed to sexual harassment, and a third reported that they themselves had been exposed to sexual harassment. Harassment involved sexist and belittling language use, unwelcome invitations or physical touching, inappropriate behaviour by partners, and irregularities in connection with a conference or company party. A follow-up questionnaire among members in spring 2019 showed that the situation had not noticeably changed, but 42% of the respondents felt that it had become easier to talk about or call out sexual harassment or victimisation.
In 2018, one year after #metoo and #medvilkenrätt, the Swedish trade union Jusek (the trade union for graduates of Law, Business Administration and Economics, Computer and Systems Science, Personnel Management, Professional Communications or Social Science) carried out a survey to follow up the extent to which attention had been drawn to the #metoo campaign in workplaces. The survey also examined if this had led to any change. Admittedly, the response frequency was low, but seven of ten lawyers reported that attention had been drawn to the campaign at the workplace. The survey showed that 26% of the lawyers (33% of the women, 9% of the men) feel a need for change at the workplace. Only 15% of the lawyers (women slightly more than men) felt that #medvilkenrätt had led to a change in the workplace, and those that saw a change generally felt the change had been positive.
In the Finnish Bar Association’s inquiry from 2017, 40% of respondents had seen a colleague exposed to sexual harassment. Of the respondents, 26% of the women and 6% of the men had themselves been exposed to harassment.
The Association of Finnish Lawyers’ survey from 2018 showed that both women and men had been exposed to sexual harassment while they were students (women 30%, men 18%). However, in working life, it is mainly women who are exposed to sexual harassment (women 26%, men 5%).
In The Norwegian Association of Lawyers’ survey on sexual harassment among its members, 4844 of 19,110 members responded to the questionnaire, with 20% reporting experiences of sexual harassment. Of those who had been exposed to sexual harassment, 87% were women, most of them under 40, and employees in the private sector. More than half of the people exposed had been harassed by a person in a management position in the organisation, and 17% had resigned or considered resigning after the incident. Only 15% had reported the incident, with the main reason being that they did not want to take the incident further.
In an Icelandic working life survey, commissioned by the Icelandic Government and the Nordic Council of Ministers and presented at the Metoo Conference organised by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2019 in Reykjavik, 17% of the judicial sector and the security sector reported sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment at the workplace has consequences for individual employees, the work environment, and the entire organisation.
According to research in the field (e.g. Diskrimineringsombudsmannen, 2012; Tidningen Psykolog, 2017), consequences for the people exposed to sexual and gender-based harassment can be both psychological and physical, such as stress, symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and reduced work satisfaction. Professional self-confidence can be damaged when the focus is placed on appearance, body, or gender instead of the professional activity. Treatment by and reactions of people around them can also affect the exposed person’s well-being. In addition, sexual harassment can influence motivation at work. One consequence of sexual harassment can therefore be that the exposed person changes workplace or even changes profession.
For a perpetrator of harassment, if nobody intervenes, the consequences can be that they get the impression that the behaviour is acceptable. In such cases, there is an imminent risk that they will continue to harass. Harassment can mean that an employee who harasses others gets a bad reputation, which can spread both in and outside the organisation. Improper behaviour can stop colleagues and collaboration partners regarding the employee as professional. This affects the will of colleagues and collaboration partners to collaborate, and the quality of the collaboration regarding the employee doing the harassment. In the worst case, the reputation of the business or organisation the harassing employee represents is damaged.
Sexual harassment affects the entire workplace, tainting its atmosphere and reducing job satisfaction. The person exposed to harassment can feel great anxiety and fear that the harassment will be repeated. This anxiety can also affect others, who become aware of the risk that they too could be harassed. Frustration can also develop over that nobody is doing anything about the situation. Both for the person exposed to harassment and others who feel worried about being harassed, energy is spent on worry and trying to avoid harassment. From the employer’s perspective, it is not just the exposed employee who is affected – other employees and collaboration partners are also affected. The effects of sexual harassment correspond to the effects of workplace bullying and recurring conflicts, which can increase the risk of sick leave and contribute to a bigger staff turnover. If a workplace is known for harassment, this can affect the atmosphere at the workplace and recruitment of new staff, particularly if it creates a picture that the workplace does not correct or take sufficient action to stop the harassment.
For the judicial sector, the incidence and handling of harassment can also be seen in the light of the organisations’ mission and social responsibility. The occurrence of sexual harassment or gender-based harassment, derogatory and stereotypical language use, or offensive discourses, damages the confidence the public has in the legal system. Public confidence in an independent and fair legal system forms the basis of the administration of justice in the Nordic countries. Particularly sensitive is the theme for those who have been exposed to some form of sexual harassment, bullying, or discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender, and who have taken, or are considering taking, the matter to legal proceedings. Public confidence in fair court proceedings can be harmed if it is generally known that the judiciary does not take harassment and discrimination seriously even internally.
(Edilex, transl. Maria Normann, 2015).
A typical feature of harassment is that other people are not aware of it. There are many different reasons why exposed persons find it difficult to talk about, call out, or report harassment. The difficulty in calling out also applies when harassment occurs with several people present, and when harassment takes the form of improper or offensive jargon that is not aimed at specific individuals. This can also apply to witnesses of harassment or inappropriate behaviour.
Common reasons for the exposed person not talking about or calling out harassment are that they:
Of those who did not take action after sexual harassment, 53% stated that they lack confidence in it making any difference. A further 21% refrain because they were afraid of reprisals. (Billing, 2019).
Of those who did not take action after victimisation, 64% stated that they lacked confidence in it making any difference. Of those who were subjected to victimisation but did not take action, 29% said they were afraid of reprisals. (Billing, 2019).
When someone has such confidence in you that they want to share their experience, here are some tips for how you can support your colleague:
Work to combat sexual harassment at the workplace involves everyone on the staff, and can be divided into preventive work, interventions, and work to promote gender equality. If we are to attain success, we must define goals and interventions for all parts of the work. A comprehensive approach to the work increases the chances of creating a safer and more respectful workplace.
If we are to prevent sexual and gender-based harassment, it is important to be aware of how the circumstances of harassment arise. It is easy to think that sexual harassment quite simply depends on individual people having different perceptions about when and where something or someone crosses the boundary, but sexual harassment has structural causes. The historical gender power structure, in which women and what represents femininity is perceived differently, and have a lower value than men and masculinity, is expressed in norms and perceptions about gender. This in turn creates discrimination in the form of sexual and gender-based harassment.
Sexual harassment at workplaces reveals that there are outdated norms and perceptions relating to gender, intimacy and sexuality that form a basis for, legitimise, or normalise sexual harassment.
Examples of outdated and harmful perceptions and norms about gender, sex, and sexuality:
Highlighting these types of norms, but also their consequences, enables us to discuss how we contribute to maintaining harmful norms in our own organisational culture. In this discussion, it is important not to get stuck on what individual people have done and said, but instead wonder about what has enabled the statements and actions in question. We must see our role as external observers when the culture of silence is created, but also as maintainers of everyday sexism, sexualised jargon, or microaggressions against certain groups. We should also reflect over who allows passive aggression when someone takes up issues of gender equality and equal treatment.
Microaggressions are issues or actions that do not normally have an offensive intent, such as compliments, inquisitive questions, or statements. When these questions, comments and actions are repeated for certain persons, for example several times a day, every week, or recurrently throughout life, they form an aggressive pattern of questioning. This aggressive repetition reduces a person to, for example, a gender, a body, or the subject of which someone’s fantasies. Microaggressions are based on stereotypical perceptions, for example, that a person should not be offended if someone touches their backside for fun, that women want compliments about their appearance, or that transgender persons think it is okay to ask them about their genitalia or any trans-process.
Passive aggressive behaviour is a pattern of indirect opposition to another person’s demands or questions. Passive aggression is a way to avoid direct confrontation. An example is when a boss or colleague takes up sexual harassment at the workplace and encounters statements like, “I feel that we can’t joke any more here at the workplace after all the discussions about sexual harassment” or references to “a politically correct dictatorship” or the “PC mafia”. Common expressions also include, “I don’t think people need to be so sensitive about these issues, just accept compliments as compliments,” or “I would like to be sexually harassed by my attractive colleagues”. Such comments are not constructive and show a lack of respect, not just for preventive work and the persons driving it, but also for those who have been exposed to sexual harassment.
Power and privileges
It is often the majority or those who have status or power (the privileged) in the organisation who have the power to set norms for and decide what applies in social contexts at the workplace. If an organisation does not continuously work with its values, which in the public sector is linked to the task and applicable legislation, there is a risk that the social norms do not follow the values. Instead, there is a risk that values are created by individual privileged persons at the workplace, which in turn can lead to other employees consciously or unconsciously accepting these norms as applicable practice. By doing so, the staff is helping to maintain outdated and harmful norms at the workplace, and thereby also discrimination.
Privileges (often) mean that a group, without earning it more than any other, has or is allocated advantages in relation to other groups.
The discrimination grounds in Nordic legislation reveal which characteristics or identities are more likely to create exposure and discrimination in different persons. The Metoo movement’s testimonies exposed societal power structures linked to gender, intimacy, and sexuality. Because of gender power structures, women are more exposed than men. Those men who have been and are perpetrators have often had the privilege of being protected from accountability for their actions. To prevent this, we must change the societal structures. Your own organisation is a good place to start this work.
Research (by, for example, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health Issues in Finland, the Public Health Agency of Sweden, Statistics and Research Åland, and Det Nationale Forskningscenter for Arbejdsmiljø in Denmark) shows that women are at higher risk of exposure to sexual harassment than men. This research also shows that racialised women and women with disabilities have a considerably higher risk of being exposed to sexual harassment than white women or women with full functional capacity. When we work to change societal structures, we must also understand that certain experiences of privileges or exposure can only be understood by reviewing several characteristics simultaneously. This is called intersectionality.
Intersectionality means that different norms and power structures affect each other and have different consequences for us. Sexual harassment therefore takes different expressions when different discrimination grounds meet. Experiences of the meeting between several characteristics can sometimes create completely individual experiences of sexual harassment. It can also be difficult or impossible to distinguish between, for example, sexual harassment, ableism, and racism if the exposed person represents several properties within the discrimination grounds.
Racialisation is a process that reduces and marginalises certain bodies to phenotypical traits on the basis of background, religion, language, or culture. These bodies are linked with stereotypical characteristics.
Transphobia, homophobia and ableism
Trans- and homophobia describes a discrimination against persons who belong to a gender minority (transphobia) or sexual minority (homophobia). Ableism describes a minimisation of persons who have some sort of disability.
Sexual or gender-based harassment can grow over a long time or be expressed through jargon or atmospheres at the workplace. Jargon that contributes to sexual harassment is based on norms regarding gender, intimacy, and sexuality. In turn, such jargon can be combined with other norms and contribute to comments with homophobic, transphobic, and racist undertones or everyday sexism. More examples of this can be found in the reports referred to in the chapter Sexual harassment in the judicial sector and courts.
Such jargon or the improper treatment of individuals is expressed in what is said and not said, which actions or non-actions are socially acceptable, and is linked to such themes as gender, sexuality, intimacy, and integrity. It can also concern jargon that devalues and invalidates exposed individuals’ or groups’ requirements for justice, apologies, or a more respectful use of language. Just like sexual harassment, jargon becomes a way to exert power regarding who has the right to define what is okay or not. Jargon is also an effective way to normalise offensive attitudes and create a culture of silence that makes it difficult for others to call out.
Harassment can function as a way to live up to a position by contributing to sexist jargon. Within many sectors, black humour or coarse language is experienced to create a sense of belonging and a way to cope with a challenging sector, a stressful everyday work situation, or psychologically demanding work. Here, it can be questioned whether talking offensively about gender, sexual orientation, harassment, or crime really does create a sense of community or well-being. This is particularly problematic in the judicial sector, where research indicates that a person’s attitudes are reflected in their actions.
In order to prevent sexual and gender-based harassment, we need to see how power and gender are connected, and how this is expressed at the individual workplace. Expressions that contribute to strengthening the imbalance in power can be both actions and non-actions (by not reacting in the case of violations). Testimonies from the legal sector and other areas within the judiciary, such as the police service and the prison service, show that sexual harassment does not occur as a result of ignorance or shortcomings in legislation. They also show that this sector contains problematic attitudes regarding gender, sexuality, intimacy, and integrity.
Credible preventive work is based on research, recommendations based on research or legislation, and on the workplace’s own risk analysis. The importance of preventive work is often emphasised in various gender equality and equal treatment plans. Despite this, goals and concrete measures are often lacking for this type of preventive work and for how it will be implemented. Simply informing the staff that harassment is forbidden and giving information about what they should do if harassment occurs has negligible preventive effect.
Research shows that the workplace culture plays a role in the occurrence of sexual harassment (Lundqvist & Bodenstam, 2019). Vital for an organisation that aims to counteract sexual harassment is an explicit non-acceptance of certain behaviours that is seen in the manager’s approach, traditional practices for the work, and clear communication from the management about what is expected of the employees. In addition to exclusion-promoting norms and the harmful jargon described earlier in the handbook, there are also other known factors that increase the risk of sexual harassment at the workplace. Preventive work can therefore also concern introducing physical barriers or working in pairs in the work tasks or in places where clients expose employees to harassment. In renovations, public areas should be open, with good visibility. Below, we review the risk factors that cannot be influenced through crime-prevention design.
Risk factors for sexual harassment:
Sometimes several risks occur simultaneously, which further increases the risk of exposure. Consequently, it is important to look over the risks and prevent them in workplace-specific risk situations. See also the section on Intersectionality.
Both the Finnish and Swedish Bar Associations’ studies show that approximately half of those exposed to harassment had not taken action, and that the majority of the respondents reported that the workplace did not have a policy, or they did not know if the workplace had a policy on sexual harassment. One of the responses stated that some male (Court of Appeal) members take for granted that they can grope everyone during Christmas parties.(’Eräässä vastauksessa on todettu eräiden miespuolisten jäsenten pitävän itsestään selvyytenä, että pikkujouluissa voi kouria kaikkia.’) (Edilex, transl. Maria Normann, 2015).
Everyone in the work community can help to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace.
Research shows that important parts in the preventive work are:
“It takes 2-3 years of systematic work. There are posters on the walls, individual discussions with the manager, local ambassadors, and external consultants. Results and prioritisations must be measured. It requires a lot of energy from the organisation, and many will think that it takes far too much energy,” says Fredrik Bondestam who together with Maja Lundqvist carried out a review of research on sexual harassment in academia.
Their report highlights clearly how the work to change a work culture takes time. In particular, they indicate the problem of the enormous culture of silence that can be found in organisations and the duality that the problem is talked about, but not openly, such as “those clients are a problem”, “don’t go to a conference on your own with him”, “you have to work with his look”, “avoid that person”, and so on. (Lundqvist & Bondestam, 2019).
Culture of silence
The culture of silence functions as a silent agreement where the perpetrator is protected, and certain phenomena are not discussed openly or not at all. The culture of silence can be strengthened when anyone trying to break the culture is met by silence or is silenced. The culture of silence means that violations, misuse of power, and irregularities can continue without anyone intervening. The culture of silence makes it more difficult for exposed persons to talk about what happened.
For employers and staff who want to prevent sexual and gender-based harassment, it is important to directly tackle all types of outdated perceptions and stereotypes linked to gender, intimacy, and sexuality. For some people it may feel fussy or overexaggerated to intervene or call out ‘mild’ cases. Consequently, the organisation and management must remind people that structures, jargon, and cultures are built up from small, individual situations that over time form a power structure. Cultures of silence are also built that legitimise improper treatment and sexual harassment. The work means that we must all review the way in which we are involved in creating these norms and perceptions at our workplace, both consciously and subconsciously, and what we can do differently in the future. Much of the work concerns finding new ways to be with each other that are inclusive rather than contributing to a misuse of power. The management should serve as a role model by immediately intervening in milder cases. If the management does not intervene in small cases, bigger cases can occur where intervention is more difficult.
The building of a sense of community must always start from the organisation’s values. As many people work with cases involving violence and violations, it is important that there is no desensitisation or normalisation of violence and violations at the workplace. For example, it may have become ‘normal’ to use coarse language and talk in an offensive and derogatory way about different cases, both one’s own and others, events noticed in the media, or in other reflections at the coffee table, at meetings, and in the corridor. The community is strengthened or weakened depending on how we talk (in a derogatory way or objectively), regardless of whether it takes place in or outside our workplace.
One major challenge at workplaces is a sort of duality about sexual harassment. On the one hand, most people are professional and treat each other with respect, but on the other, various surveys both before and after the #metoo campaign show that sexual harassment does occur and that there is a strong culture of silence about it. Consequently, preventive work and work to detect any culture of silence regarding sexual harassment requires a clear self-critical review, both of yourself as a colleague and of the work community and its structures.
Every workplace needs to review what harmful norms exist within its own work community. We should also understand that these norms change over time. Consequently, continual reflections on norms in connection with various meetings can be a way to keep the issue of proper and improper treatment alive. The discussion can take up, for example, 10-20 minutes of meeting time, depending on how many are taking part and who is participating in the meeting (managers or colleagues).
To facilitate discussion, the workplace can use a form, for example on a server, where anyone can enter examples of actions and statements that contribute to harmful norms. The organisation or department can draw up such a form, which first lists places where harassment can occur, such as client meetings, coffee breaks, staff activities, or spontaneous conversations by the coffee machine, with an open section in the form where the respondent can enter examples of situations that can be linked to these places.
The aim is to contribute to preventive work that draws attention to any unsafe places, environments, structures, attitudes, and jargon at the workplace. If we do not work constantly, there is a risk that outdated perceptions and norms infiltrate the organisation through new appointments, collaboration partners, visitors, or changes in the societal climate. Here, it is especially valuable if managers can lead with a good example, and share their thoughts about what limiting norms they have detected. This increases the chances of other people daring to continue to take up problematic situations.
Tips for preventive discussions:
In this handbook, we do not describe the country- and organisation-specific procedures that are recorded in various policy documents, such as gender equality plans or action models. Instead, we give you advice, tips and views that are perhaps not always included in the general guidelines.
For managers, it is particularly important to be careful how to express yourself regarding sexuality, gender norms, and sexual harassment. The same applies for physical contact with colleagues. If you are a manager or a person in a position of responsibility and you talk in a derogatory way about sexual harassment, display outdated norms about sexuality, or cross other people’s physical boundaries, you will not maintain the confidence of your colleagues. The same applies to situations where you are present but do not intervene in situations where violations occur. Your behaviour can help to build up a culture of silence or reinforce such a culture that has already been built up. Your behaviour or the fact that you do not react when something happens may also be the reason why these incidents are not reported. If you feel that you lack sufficient knowledge or tools to manage sexual harassment at the workplace, it is your responsibility to ask for help from the management or go on a training course. Preventive engagement in these issues is recommended; if we do not activate ourselves by acquiring knowledge and looking for tools before something happens, there is a risk that we make many mistakes along the way that make the situation worse for all parties concerned.
In order to break the culture of silence regarding sexist and racist jargon, or words that have progressed into physical harassment, the staff must start to speak out. The staff must feel confident they will be listened to, treated with respect, and that something will actually be done if they choose to break the silence.
It all depends on a management making clear what applies at the workplace, for example how staff are expected to behave in relation to each other and how to proceed in the event of harassment nevertheless occurring.
The workplace needs to make decisions on how complaints can be submitted electronically, either with a name or anonymously, and how to proceed with complaints, tips, or expressions of anxiety for colleagues or about the physical areas in the workplace. A common failing at the workplace is that there is no response to the person who has submitted the complaint, for example in cases where a colleague has made an observation. If anonymous complaints are submitted, it is good to think through how you will give a response, to prevent the staff thinking that nothing is happening.
The employer needs a plan for how to communicate that work is ongoing about the irregularity, while also respecting confidentiality in different cases. You can, for example, carry out general initiatives in the form of statements where the management clearly renounces itself from sexual harassment, arranges courses or campaigns to increase competency in the issues, and draws up an action programme for the workplace.
TIP: The Three-Step Method
The Three-Step Method involves:
The steps do not to be taken in order. The main point is to adapt the steps to what feels natural in the situation. The method has different names in different contexts, and its actual origin is unclear.
One example is how these three steps could be expressed: “I don’t think it’s respectful to pass comments on colleagues’ bodies or clothes, as you never know how it feels. For me, it doesn’t feel right to hear that from you as a colleague. Could we perhaps discuss in general compliments at the next team meeting? Perhaps you also have ideas about things we could be more aware of?”
It is important that the person understands that you are being honest that you are speaking out because you care about the climate at the workplace. Speaking out or calling out is about lowering the threshold so that even smaller incidents at the workplace can be considered, as the sum of all incidents create an either secure or insecure environment.
1. Take your experience seriously
Do not trivialise what happened. Instead, remember that you are entitled to feel respected and secure at your workplace. If you are uncertain whether the behaviour to which you have been exposed can be classified as sexual harassment, read the chapter Key concepts. Remember that unwelcome sexualised or gender-fixated jargon and atmosphere is regarded as sexual harassment even if it lacks a specific recipient. It is you who defines what type of behaviour is unwelcome, and even it is not a matter of sexual harassment, it is an occupational issue that the employees feel secure and respected at their workplace.
2. Call out the perpetrator of the harassment
If possible, make it clear to the perpetrator that their behaviour is unwelcome. For example, the Three-Step Method gives tips on how you can call out the behaviour.
If you do not call out the behaviour immediately, you can do it later. It is completely normal to freeze and not know how to act when you have been exposed to sexual harassment.
The situation is not always such that, if you have been exposed, you can take up the matter with the person who harassed you, for example when it concerns a third person who has removed themselves from the situation. In situations where you are busy with something else and cannot escape if the harassment is taking place by telephone, or anonymous messages, or if the situation feels threatening, it can be difficult to take up the matter at the time.
If you cannot take up the matter with the person in question, you can take it up with your immediate supervisor or a harassment officer if there is one. You can also talk to your trade union representative/occupational health and safety representative/ safety officer, the occupational healthcare services, or contact your trade union.
If it concerns a serious crime, you can report it to the police immediately. Your manager, harassment officer, or health and safety representative you may have talked to will help you if you wish.
Do not assume that the behaviour will stop. The person who behaved inappropriately is perhaps unaware that their behaviour is experienced as annoying, and there may be others who have been exposed by the same person. That person must be made aware in some way that their behaviour is not acceptable.
3. Tell someone in a position of responsibility at the workplace
The employer has an obligation to investigate, take action, and implement measures to stop the harassment. The obligation to investigate starts to apply immediately when the employer becomes aware you have been exposed to harassment, so you should inform your employer representatives about what happened as soon as possible. You have the right to be taken seriously and to receive support from your employer. The same applies when you want to report the matter to the police. When you talk to your employer, you can take with you a union representative or a colleague you trust. The complaint can help to stop long-term problems and prevent the problems escalating. It is in the employer’s interest that everyone can feel secure and respected at their workplace.
If it is your manager that has exposed you to harassment, contact their superior or the HR department.
If the person harassing you is a client, a visitor, supplier, or collaboration partner, it is still a security issue for the workplace. The exposed person has the same right to question the behaviour and to take it further in the organisation. The complaint can help the organisation draw up better protection systems or procedures for its employees. This means it is just as important to raise these situations as situations occurring at the workplace.
In some Nordic countries, you have the right to forbid your employer from proceeding with the case, and from revealing your identity to the perpetrator of the harassment. One recommendation is that you think carefully about this decision, because the most important thing is that these situations are brought to the employer’s attention so that the culture of silence can be broken. An employer can work with these issues knowing about this case, both in their preventive work and generally in the issue of promoting gender equality.
→ Read more about preventive work
→ Read more about work to promote gender equality
It is important that you record in writing where and when the harassment occurred, who was present, if and how you reacted, and whether you told anyone about the harassment. Save any emails or other messages with harassing, offensive or threatening content. The documentation may be needed if the harassment does not stop and is valuable material for any police report. A police report is recommended if the harassment is of a severe character or goes on over a long period.
The employer is obliged to investigate what occurred, even if there is no evidence. Read and familiarise yourself with the workplace policy and action plan for improper treatment at the workplace. You will then know what the process is like when you submit a complaint, whether there is any special harassment officer or a suitable contact person within the organisation, and what your rights are when the process gets under way.
5. If the employer takes no action or does not take action quickly enough
Talk to your trade union representative/occupational health and safety representative/safety officer, the occupational healthcare services, or contact your trade union. If you are not a member of the union, you can also contact the gender equality or discrimination ombudsman in the country in which you work. Record when and how you reported the harassment to your employer, and submit the complaint in writing first, so that the time and date when the employer first heard about the case is documented. If the employer has not taken the complaint seriously, or does not start an investigation quickly enough, the employer can be prosecuted for not fulfilling their duties.
6. Fear of losing your job
The Nordic countries’ laws and policy documents prohibit reprisals, which means that anyone who draws attention to, or reports harassment may not be subjected to sanctions. It also concerns those who witnessed or heard about discrimination or harassment at the workplace.
7. Support is available
It is common that persons who are exposed to sexual or gender-based harassment react in some way after the incident. Depending on what occurred and the exposed person’s individual factors, the reactions can be anger and aggression, impaired work motivation and work capacity, fear, nightmares, and mood swings or insomnia. It is important to talk about these situations, partly so that you can process shame and blame, but also to mitigate the consequences and support your well-being. You can contact the occupational health service for information about their services. The occupational health service should also be able to provide information about organisations that offer services to exposed persons, such as crime victim shelters.
According to surveys about harassment in working life, many employees have seen one or more colleagues exposed to harassment. We need to remember that sexual harassment is not just situations where someone is directly exposed, but also includes jargon and atmospheres that are not aimed at a specific person. The situation is characterised by being sexualised in an unwelcome way. In such situations you are also being exposed to sexual harassment. Here we give some tips on different things you can do if you witness sexual harassment.
1. Find out what is happening
If you are uncertain about is happening or what happened, ask the exposed person what is happening or what happened. It is important not to interpret a situation on their behalf; give them interpretive precedence. You can ask if everything is okay and say that how you perceived the situation did not feel okay, or that it is not in line with the workplace values. For example, it is not okay that two colleagues engage in sexist jargon between themselves on equal terms, as it takes place in a work environment that also includes other people, and it creates an offensive climate.
If it is clear that sexual harassment has taken place, intervene. If the person exposed has not said anything about it, you can – it concerns your work environment. If the person has said something about it, you can support their interpretation of the situation by agreeing or pointing out that you also saw or heard what happened. The important thing is that the person who was exposed to the harassment is not left alone with the perpetrator.
You can also, at a later occasion, talk with the perpetrator and express your concern over what happened. Ask them how they feel, if they want support or someone to talk with.
In an ongoing situation that is acutely threatening or involves physical violence, call for help and try to stop the situation. If you cannot physically go between the people involved, cause a distraction by pushing over a pile of paper or dropping a book, spilling something you have in a glass, pretending to be talking on the phone, and get closer to the situation.
3. Support the exposed person
Do not minimise, trivialise, or explain away what happened. Remind the exposed person or others involved that it is their subjective perception of what feels appropriate or uncomfortable that decides. Do not leave the person who was exposed to the harassment alone with the perpetrator.
Depending on what happened and what the work situation is like, make an assessment together with the exposed person on the following practical steps. Is it possible to satisfactorily resolve the situation directly, by the perpetrator apologising? Or is an employer representative needed to start a longer process? Say that you are willing to come forward as a witness if the exposed person wants to take the matter further. Reflect on how to handle the documentation about what occurred, even if the exposed person does not want to take the matter further. Documentation is important if something similar or corresponding should happen again. Recommend to the exposed person that they take up the harassment with the manager or someone else in a position of responsibility at the workplace, even if they do not want to.
Inform someone in a position of responsibility about what happened (see more under the heading above about who you can submit a report to).
Document what you have witnessed. Record in writing where and when something happened, which people were present, if and how you reacted, and whether you told anyone about the harassment. Save any emails or other messages with harassing, offensive or threatening content. The documentation can be useful in a report to the employer or the police. The documentation also says something about the workplace attitudes and atmosphere.
6. Take part as a witness in any reporting process.
An accusation of sexual harassment can come as an unpleasant surprise. We all want to be perceived as professional and popular colleagues, collaboration partners, managers, etc. The follow tips are for you if you understand crossed a barrier or if someone else drew attention to it.
1. Do not minimise, trivialise, ridicule, or make excuses for what happened
You may actually have been simply trying to be funny, give a compliment or be polite, you may have been extra tired, did not think anything of it, or did not mean to hurt anyone. A key aspect in the definition of sexual harassment is that it is the exposed person’s subjective assessment of the situation that decides. It is not your assessment that decides or is most important in defining whether sexual harassment occurred or not. Consequently, don’t take a defensive position, or minimise or trivialise what happened. You have crossed someone’s boundary, and that is what it is all about. Don’t cross the boundary more times by dismissing how they experienced the situation.
You are certain to perceive differently what happened and how. In situations where people experience that it is you who is the perpetrator, it is important that you switch the focus from being about you and how you are feeling to the person who feels exposed. The situation requires that you empathetically hear what the person perceived and experienced. The experience of the person who feels exposed is just as real as your experience; the difference is that your behaviour created discomfort and has consequences at the workplace. Remember that the person’s perception of the situation may correspond with how other people around you experience your actions.
If a colleague points out or calls out the incident, it can be because the colleague wants to preserve your good relationship. Pointing something out is a way of drawing your attention to what can damage your relationship or the work community. If your colleague points things out to you already when small infractions occur, they are preventing something unpleasant growing between you or at the workplace, where the threshold for pointing things out might otherwise grow. The majority of people who speak up about sexual harassment do not have an aim to report and take the incident further, but simply want the incident to be investigated directly and for the behaviour to stop. You and your work community have a lot to gain from someone pointing out what occurred, and that the person accused of sexual harassment listens so that they can change their behaviour.
3. Take responsibility
Naturally, it is not pleasant to find yourself in a situation where attention is drawn to your inappropriate behaviour. If you have exposed someone to sexual harassment, it is important that you take responsibility for your behaviour. What you need to do is take responsibility for your actions and be receptive to criticism, regardless of whether you are aware, or unaware, of the unpleasant situation your behaviour has contributed to. Immediately stop the behaviour that is perceived as offensive. Don’t try to prevent the person who feels violated from taking up the matter with the manager or someone else in a position of responsibility in the organisation. The fact that someone is taking up this matter with you gives you a chance to consider how you act in different situations. You can also get a better understanding of how other people perceive you and your actions at the workplace, and you have a chance to change your behaviour. Nobody wants to be the person at the workplace that others perceive to be a perpetrator of harassment.
Sometimes we cross boundaries even though we perhaps did not mean to create any unpleasant feelings or harass anyone. Usually, it is not at all easy to take up such a matter, particularly if it is a colleague you work with, or someone else you will need to be in contact with in the future through work. It is therefore important to remember that the person has often summoned up courage to take up the matter with you. It is also therefore extra important to apologise and, in that way, meet the person in the difficult situation, even if you too can find it difficult. The greater the uncomfortable feeling your behaviour has aroused, the more important it is for you to honestly show that you regret your contribution.
One tip for a good apology is not to make excuses for your action in the apology: “I’m sorry I made you feel afraid and uncomfortable, sorry. It was good that you could say how it felt, I won’t do it again.”
After an apology, the exposed person may not feel the need to take the matter further, but in that case the exposed person must feel that the matter has been satisfactorily addressed and resolved. If the matter has already proceeded to an investigation, both points, “Take responsibility” and “Apologise” apply.
5. Participate in the investigation into what happened.
When your employer has become aware that sexual harassment has occurred at the workplace, they have an obligation to quickly investigate what happened. The employer is obliged to form their own version of what happened. A common situation is that it is one person’s word against another’s. If you are accused of harassment, you will be called in for a discussion in connection with the employer’s investigation. At this discussion, it can be a good idea to have a union representative with you. The employer will keep all involved parties informed about how the investigation is proceeding. No information from the investigation will be spread in the workplace.
6. Action when the investigation is complete
If the employer’s investigation shows that what occurred was harassment, they are obliged to take action. This may involve a reprimand, a warning, a transfer, you may be given notice, or in the worst care, you may be fired. You can contact the union to discuss what the different measures involve.
If you feel uncomfortable because you do not know what other types of behaviour can be interpreted as sexual harassment in the future, we recommend that you read about harassment, go on a course, or find out more information about sexual harassment. If you feel comfortable about doing it, you can also encourage your employer to allow time for reflection regarding sexual harassment. The sense of community in the workplace may be affected by what occurred, and there may be many people who feel they do not know what is okay or not okay on the issue of sexual harassment. A workplace needs to be secure for everyone. It means that those people who feel insecure about these particular issues are also entitled to support, as part of the preventive work against sexual harassment or harassment in general.
The employer has a legal obligation to ensure there is contingency in place for handling cases of sexual harassment. When the employer receives signals that something has happened or a case has been reported, they must take action immediately. Sexual harassment must always be seen as a work environment issue. It is in the employer’s interest to avoid creating a situation where the workplace is insecure, and a harmful work culture spreads. In addition to following the procedures for receiving and handling a complaint, measures are needed to stop harassment, but also measures that prevent corresponding harassment from occurring again, disciplinary measures, and a timetable for all this.
It is also important to already have in place a plan showing what measures will be taken if the harassment does not stop, and in what order. It is important that the entire chain functions, so the case does not get stuck in the system. There may also be a need for rehabilitation for the exposed person, and follow-up to ensure that the harassment has stopped. Depending on what has happened and what negative effect the harassment has had, this also applies to individual teams or the entire work community, for example if the incident harmed confidence in the workplace or the management or created schisms or division in the workplace that can be linked to the incident. Preventive work to ensure that corresponding situations cannot occur in the future is also of utmost importance.
In certain situations, the perpetrator of the harassment is not an employee or even known. It may concern situations where the person who has behaved improperly has disappeared, or where harassment has taken place by telephone or in an anonymous message. It can also occur in a (judicial) relation to the perpetrator, who can for example be a client, a visitor, or a collaboration partner. In these cases, it is difficult or impossible for the employer to investigate the situation in the same way as between two employees.
When harassment between two parties cannot be investigated, support from the manager and the work community is particularly important. The support may concern something as simple as the exposed person getting confirmation that the behaviour is unacceptable, and their feelings and reactions acknowledged. A procedure by which harassment is documented is also important. The documentation can be used as support when the organisation plans preventive measures or interventions. The information is also a good basis for making assessments about the strains and security in the workplace. Here, preventive measures for addressing violence and threats, in the form of training, can be supplemented with courses in sexual harassment and other improper treatment.
The first step is to anchor the method in the work group/at the unit. Agree that you will start to say “peep!” as a method for preventive work and to draw attention to violations and harassment that occurs at the workplace when someone says or does something derogatory or excluding using text or pictures. It can also concern attitudes and jargon at the workplace. Say a simple “peep” when you hear someone say or do something that is, or can be, experienced as offensive or excluding. The person in question is then given the opportunity to see the offensive aspect of the situation and stop it. The person can also question the “peep” and start a dialogue about the situation. The “peep” can also be questioned later if it does not feel suitable to question it directly. “What did you experience as offensive in what I said or did? Can you explain what you mean? My interpretation is this.” The dialogue invites people to talk and promotes the understanding that you are using the “peep” method to help each other to draw attention to behaviour, and not to run each other down when someone does something offensive or excluding.
“Sometimes this method is regarded as silly or strange. However, it has been shown that it has nevertheless been trialled, and that it is felt to be successful. The strength of the method is that the ‘peep’ lowers the threshold for noticing an action without requiring a well-formulated comment or question from the person drawing attention to the matter.”
– (Malin Gustavsson, VD på Ekvalita).
What is your way of thinking here?
Depending on how we express ourselves, the recipient experiences different messages in different ways. Because we all are a product of a history that is not only sexist but also trans- and homophobic, racist and ableist, it can be important to sometimes help each other to become aware of the way we think and help change them. If the “peep” method does not feel like an alternative at your particular workplace, or if you want another way of drawing attention to violations or infringements in everyday work, an inquisitive perspective that looks for answers beyond what it is actually said can be a solution for you.
When a colleague or manager
you can ask, “what’s your way of thinking here?” This approach allows the person in question the chance to explain their thinking behind a statement, proposal, or action.
Create a culture in which it is easy to accept criticism
One of the reasons why the person exposed to sexual harassment does not talk about the incident is worry about getting a reputation as a troublemaker or of being humourless. The exposed person may also be afraid that the perpetrator may react with anger, or they may be afraid of reprisals if they call out the harassment. One good thing for the entire work community is to practice calling out. It is also good to practice being reprimanded.
It can of course feel unpleasant if attention is drawn to you behaving inappropriately. Often the first reaction is to deny what you are accused of, take up a defensive position, or try to make excuses. It is easier for you to handle such feelings using several simple thoughts:
Now I have a chance to show that I am a professional and reliable colleague, and that I can handle this responsibly.
Action plans and procedures for taking action in the event of harassment also help prevent incidents. If action plans and procedures are not drawn up until there is an incident, there is a risk that the case in question influences the design of the actions or procedures, which is not a favourable start.
It is important that new staff are given an introduction in how you at the workplace view sexual and gender-based harassment and all types of improper treatment. This can be simply included when presenting the values and other policy documents used in the organisation. As staff with shorter employment contracts are part of a special risk group (see the chapter Risk factors), it is important that they too are given an introduction.
Colleagues who have worked at the workplace for a long time also need to be reminded about the workplace values or Code of Conduct, and what action they can take if they witness, are exposed to, or themselves engage in sexual or gender-based harassment.
Action plans and procedures should also include a section concerning follow-up and rehabilitation, where both the exposed person and the perpetrator are contacted for discussions. There may be a battery of questions, such as “Has the sexual harassment stopped?”, “Has anything else happened that had a negative or positive influence on the work environment after what happened?”, and “How do you feel today after what happened?”. If the harassment continues, the workplace measures have not been sufficient, and further measures are required to stop it. In addition, ask the exposed person if they themselves have any ideas about what could be done to support their situation. In cases where the harassment has continued, it is also good to evaluate the procedures and decide whether they are sufficiently effective and how they could be improved.
When a workplace wants to prevent these forms of harassment, it is not enough to simply train the staff in what is legally required, as such training does not necessarily support a change in the organisational culture. The preventive measures should include elements regarding proper treatment, norms linked to gender, intimacy and sexuality, and encouragement and tips for how someone can intervene when they witness harassment and improper treatment (see, for example, Sexual harassment: If you have witnessed sexual harassment, what should you do?).
Experiences of sexual harassment and gender-based harassment in working life are often investigated through surveys on health, wellbeing and satisfaction aimed at everyone in the workplace. It is important that the incidence of these forms of harassment are investigated so that the personnel department can take action.
Sexual harassment and discrimination do not always come to light in staff surveys. There are many different reasons for this, for example that the staff does not know which actions the survey covers. For certain people, sexual harassment or gender-based bullying can be such an everyday occurrence that they no longer notice it, while others may not trust the survey’s anonymity, may not want to draw attention to it, or do not want to be seen as a troublemaker. If someone believes that nothing will be changed anyway, or that nobody will take the incident seriously, it can easily happen that experiences of harassment or discrimination are not reported, either in surveys or to their manager. Reflect over how you can prevent this in connection with your survey.
Regardless of whether or not the staff report experiences of sexual harassment, preventive work is vital for maintaining consistent mutual respect at the workplace.
Work to promote equal treatment involves creating and maintaining a work culture that is secure and inclusive for all. This requires that both employers and employees understand what contributes to such a culture and what can be potential barriers to attaining it. The work to promote such a culture requires no formulation of problems, and instead involves, in various ways, supporting and maintaining a positive atmosphere and sense of community at the workplace. In concrete terms, you could say it is about putting the organisation’s values into practice. Here, everybody needs to be involved, as we have different ways and views on how and when values are implemented in practice. An active values base prevents certain people assuming the right to themselves define what is right and wrong at the workplace. A continual discussion at the work keeps the workplace alert and receptive to how the values can be applied in practice. These discussions can help to make everyone more aware of norms that strengthen the sense of community and contribute to inclusion in the organisation.
Discuss the themes listed below with your team, your department, or a collaboration partner. The aim of the discussion is to identify which actions, procedures, or ways of expressing things and relating to each other promote inclusive and supportive norms at the workplace. It has been shown that it is often easier to think of concrete actions that create exclusion than actions that promote inclusion at the workplace. To avoid focusing only on what is not working, one way to start the discussion is to first take up and show what is already being done, and which practices you could strengthen further at the workplace. The discussion could be organised in such a way that different groups discuss different themes. More dimensions can be added by discussing the same issues again from the perspectives of a client and collaboration partner.
The work on sexual harassment and violations mainly requires that we work at different levels and with different methods over a long time. The fact that you have read this far in the handbook shows that you will be an important part of the journey of change your organisation has perhaps already started or will start.
The work will be felt by all the people involved because change is felt. The result will be a more secure organisation where people feel more that they can be themselves and focus on doing a good job. In such a working environment, we can be and are more motivated to do our absolute best. This will benefit not just the staff and the organisation, but also very much the judiciary as a whole.
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