Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace


In my last post, I talked about how important it is for parents to educate children about the dangers of misogyny and sexual harassment.  However, if the recent news has taught us anything, we’ve learned that adults need a refresher course on these lessons as well.

One of the most frequent places where women report sexual harassment is the workplace. If you’ve read any of the #metoo accounts, you’ll see that experiences run the gamut from being subjected to pet names or enduring after-hours drinks with the boss to unwanted advances—and at the very worst—sexual assault. Sadly, none of these stories should surprise us. Instead, they should motivate us to act and to change. Here are a few things to think about.

If You Are An Employer

Now, more than ever, employers have a responsibility to foster an environment where sexual harassment and misogyny are unacceptable. How? It starts with a culture shift from the top down. Here are a few things to do right away.

  • Adopt a sexual harassment policy. Establish a clearly defined plan, including expectations and disciplinary actions, and then be sure to enforce it.


  • Train your employees. Many companies consult with experts on this one. You may want to hire a qualified individual who can articulate your policy, explain what sexual harassment is, and answer questions. At a minimum, training should occur annually.


  • Be aware. In cases of sexual harassment, ignorance is not bliss. Keep your ear to the ground and listen to what your employees are saying. Take complaints seriously, and use your words and actions to set a good example for the people around you.

If You Are An Employee

Just because your company has implemented a strict sexual harassment policy doesn’t mean it can’t still happen. You need to know how to defend and stand up for yourself.

  • Document, document, document. If you plan to report sexual harassment—and you should—you will need proof. Record any inappropriate comments or conversations, keep detailed records (including dates and times), and take photos of anything that offends you.


  • Blow your whistle. A person who reports sexual harassment is not a tattletale. In fact, having the courage to speak up and come forward may empower others to do so as well.


  • Realize that no means no. Learn how to confidently say no, time and time again. While your instinct may be to laugh it off or in some way justify the offender’s words or actions—don’t. If saying no doesn’t stop the behavior, it’s time to meet with HR.


  • Separate work life and personal life. Set clear boundaries about socializing with co-workers and avoid situations where alcohol could compromise behavior.

It’s easy to get discouraged when discussing these topics. But change begins with examining your own life by taking a closer look at how you speak to people as well as how you are spoken to. By working together, we can all be a part of the cultural shift that needs to take place.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.