An ill-suited conversation. A moment of innuendo. Or a comment targeted at our gender, wardrobe choices, and even our hairstyles. Each, depending on context, are considered sexually harassing messages. And yet, especially in a remote working environment, identifying harassment often comes down to a feeling you get rather than something you can prove. You feel the other person’s behavior or comment was inappropriate. But was it sexual harassment?
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Under any circumstances, this is not an easy topic. Now, with many employees working from home, the degree of difficulty has only increased. After all, sexual harassment does not always occur face-to-face or by touch; video conferences, emails and texts, and collaboration platforms like Slack are also delivery methods.
The Uncomfortable Conversation: Sexual Harassment
I invited Sarah Beaulieu, co-founder of The Uncomfortable Conversation and author of the book Breaking the Silence Habit: A Practical Guide to Uncomfortable Conversations in the #MeToo Workplace, to join me on #WorkTrends. In a frank discussion, we dove into the nuances of socially distanced forms of sexual harassment. I quickly learned this is an issue Sarah deeply cares about, and has since her first discussion on the subject: “In that moment, and in the conversations that followed, I learned about the power of a single conversation.”
Sarah emphasized that work cultures are work cultures, face-to-face or not – and harassment is harassment. Regardless of our working environment, she said we need to set our own personal boundaries, and organizations must set them as well. “Individually and organizationally – collectively – we’re responsible for holding the line,” Sarah said. “When we hold that line together, and in service of our work culture, it’s less likely sexual harassment takes place.”
The Role Silence Plays
During our conversation, I was particularly struck by the role silence plays in enabling sexual harassment — and how, over time, that silence can be so damaging to workplace culture. Sarah agrees, and astutely adds: “Silence is a choice – and culture is the conversations we choose to have, or not have, together.”
Yes, sexual harassment is a difficult topic. And yet I’m so glad we started this discussion. Please, listen to the entire podcast. In our time together, Sarah shares so much of herself and her work. And every word will help us start the uncomfortable – but absolutely necessary – conversations.
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