Study suggests strategies to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace

In response to the growing number of recent reports, cases and allegations of sexual harassment towards women in organisations and the workplace, University of Kent forensic psychologist Dr Afroditi Pina suggests that the number of incidences could be reduced if organisations and companies:

  • developed and published clear anti-harassment policies
  • provided rigorous anti-harassment training and awareness for all employees

Dr Pina also believes that the response of organisations and companies to sexual harassment could be improved by them providing access to external watchdogs and/or independent harassment advisers with whom women would feel both supported and believed in.

She said: ‘Historically we see rates of sexual harassment reporting going up after someone has publically filed a grievance or complaint. This emphasises the necessity for clear anti-harassment training and awareness, as there are people that are being harassed that either don’t know whether their case classifies as harassment, or feel unsupported in moving forward with a complaint.

‘Clear anti-harassment policies benefit organisations by making employees aware of what constitutes appropriate behaviour in the workplace, knowing what the sanctions are, and how to proceed when inappropriate behaviours that affect people’s working lives occur.’

Dr Pina, in collaboration with Dr Tendayi Viki from the University of Kent’s School of Psychology, has researched the impact of sexual harassment on its victims, as well as women’s coping strategies as a response to sexual harassment. Among their findings they have discovered that:

  • 1 in 2 women from those surveyed have experienced at least one type of harassment
  • the overwhelming majority were harassed by men
  • the most prevalent type of harassment experienced was unwanted sexual attention (unreciprocated sexually related behaviour)
  • 2 out of 3 reported having endured sexist and indecent remarks
  • 1 in 2 received demeaning comments about their looks
  • 1 in 2 suffered unsolicited questions about their personal/sex life
  • 1 in 2 also reported unwanted physical contact from a perpetrator
  • 2 out of 3 were harassed by superiors, 1 in 3 were harassed by equal status perpetrators
  • there was very low formal reporting, with women tending to use avoidance strategies most frequently (i.e. trying to avoid the perpetrator and the situation)