By: Shauna Zamarripa
Unforeseen and uninvited advances from colleagues or superiors can make just about anybody feel instantaneously overpowered. This type of conduct creates uneasy, difficult situations that can appear nerve-racking to escape from. Such blatant, unexpected overtures can threaten friendships and working kinships alike. Thusly, it is important for all professionals to understand how to differentiate appropriate and inappropriate workplace behavior and what actions to take in the event of potential sexual harassment.
No. 1: Dress the Part
In an unblemished society, everybody would be able to wear what makes him or her feel content. The fact remains, however, that we don’t live in a faultless society. When you are at work, remember to dress professionally at all times. Leave miniskirts and form fitting garb at home. If you dress provocatively or in a fashion that courts attention, it sends the wrong message to coworkers and superiors, and while it should not open anyone up to unwanted sexual advances, it often does.
No. 2: Don’t Ignore It
If you have ever been cat called, whistled at or treated as if you are a flank steak, you probably already know that the best thing you can do is to dismiss these inappropriate overtures. While this type of behavior might be okay for construction workers, however, it should not take place in a professional environment for any reason. If you find yourself targeted by less than mature work fellows, document their behavior and take it directly to management. If management does not address the issue, and if the behavior continues, it’s time to go to your human resources manager. If you choose to ignore it, the behavior will very likely get worse.
No. 3: Don’t Flirt
Unless you are willing to back up your flirtatious behavior with something more, avoid flirting in the workplace. Even seemingly harmless banter with coworkers or superiors can be misinterpreted, leaving you open to unwanted advances. At which point, should you swat these advances away, you run the risk of earning a reputation you do not deserve. The bottom line? Flirting at work is never okay, regardless of circumstance.
No. 4: Be Clear About your Feelings
If the unwanted advances you experience are coming from a coworker who is also a friend, the most salient thing you can do it be straightforward about your feelings. If necessary, mention company policy prohibiting interoffice relationships (most offices have these) to make your case clear. Rarely is a flirtation worth losing your job over.
No. 5: Know Your Resources
Professional organizations take a hard line on sexual harassment, and most have a zero tolerance policy regarding inappropriate relationships in the workplace. Make sure you understand the policy and procedures for reporting inappropriate behavior in your workplace and follow the protocols set forth in your employee manual. If you are unsure or unclear about the policies, consult your human resources department or call in to an employee hotline anonymously (if one is available).
No. 6: Be Prepared for the Worst
There are instances, even in a professional setting, where predators become physical. Because of this, carrying some degree of personal protection — like pepper spray or a whistle – is important for your personal safety. Being prepared for the worst can save you in the event that unwanted and unexpected advances turn into something physical.
When reporting someone to human resources or management, it is also important to remember that your actions can damage working relationships and careers – both yours and theirs. Before blowing the whistle on a coworker, check in with yourself and make sure you are certain the behavior warrants reporting. Never file a complaint when you are angry. Focus on the behavior, not the person and focus on facts, not opinion.
No one deserves to go to work and be made miserable because of sexual harassment. Take the right precautions to protect yourself, behave above reproach, never forget your professionalism and know your resources. Doing this will help your confidence as well as your career.