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How work culture can encourage sexual harassment

Although many companies have implemented stricter policies to help prevent sexual harassment from happening in the workplace, the problem continues to occur. It may not be that the existing policies are not strict enough or that there are too few rules, but rather, that an underlying issue remains unaddressed. Many studies continue to suggest that sexual harassment is an abuse of power, implying that some employees may feel that their work culture allows them to get away with inappropriate behavior. Some cultural issues in the workplace may include:

  • Male-dominated leadership: When there are more males than females in positions of leadership, it can be intimidating for victimized women to speak up for themselves. Many women may resort to prioritizing their job security over their personal safety in the workplace, especially if they have been harassed by someone in their line of authority. A lack of female leaders may limit a victim's options when considering who to reach out to for support.
  • Normalized jokes or comments: Making certain jokes or comments based on gender stereotypes may pass as everyday office banter, but may also be inconsiderate to those most vulnerable to sexual harassment. Those who participate in making inappropriate jokes may feel entitled to do so, especially if the behavior is considered normal in the office.

Addressing the underlying issue

Even with strict policies against sexual harassment, many companies may struggle to notice how their workplace culture makes it alright to get away with inappropriate behavior. Implementing strict policies may only be a short-term solution to a problem with much deeper roots.

Employers may want to review what forms of normalized office behavior may be subtly detrimental to the self-esteem of vulnerable employees. It may also be worth diversifying a company's leadership roles by hiring more women. The presence of female leadership can help other female employees feel empowered to speak up for themselves in the workplace, and may also provide a fresh perspective for companies looking to recreate a more inclusive work culture.

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