How to Deal With Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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As we’ve seen over and over again during the past few months, sexual harassment in the workplace is a systemic issue that society is just now starting to reckon with. The post-Weinstein moment isn’t just about sex, though. “What it’s really about is work, and women’s equality in the workplace, and more broadly, about the rot at the core of our power structures that makes it harder for women to do work because the whole thing is tipped toward men,” Rebecca Traister wrote for the Cut.

It’s really about women and their day-to-day lives in an office, where sexual harassment might happen and a woman wonders what exactly she can do, and how. What if a co-worker keeps hitting on you? What if all the men in your office are meeting up for guys’ nights without inviting you? The Cut’s “Ask a Boss” advice writer Alison Green has addressed these questions and more in her weekly column. Read her answers below.

1. ‘How Can I Suggest Sexual-Harassment Training at My Office?’

Four male colleagues over the past year asked this woman out, and at least one other indicated he’s about to. Some of them were her managers. She’s followed the same steps each time: avoiding them, trying to indicate she’s not into them asking her out while still being polite, saying no when they ask her out, and dealing with the ensuing awkwardness. “I’m TIRED of this,” she writes. “And furious about it. I know this is happening to other women here, too.”

How can you tactfully recommend sexual-harassment training for the office to your boss? Green says it’s a great idea to suggest it, with one caveat. “My fear is that if your suggestion doesn’t include a mention of what you’ve personally had to deal with, it won’t carry the same weight and urgency as if it does,” she advises. Definitely talk to someone, but the best person to approach might not be your department head. Go to HR and consider these next steps.

2. ‘My Co-worker Keeps Hitting on Me!’

How do you get a guy in the office to leave you alone? This reader was friends with a male co-worker, until he found out she was getting divorced and started pursuing her. Now he visits her office all the time and made an inappropriate pass at her during a company happy hour, among other bad behavior. “How did I mess up the boundary so that he could slide in like this?,” she wonders.

Green urgently addresses that question: “You didn’t do anything to make him think this is okay. He’s thought this was okay since long before he met you.” People like this are often men (but not always) who take advantage of the fact that people (mainly women, but not always) are raised and socialized to be polite, she says. “To shut it down, you’re unfortunately going to have to go against that socialization and tell him directly to stop.” Use these specific ways to talk to him.

3. ‘My Boss Is Pressuring Me to Get Pregnant!’

Man or woman, here’s the question to never ask a co-worker: “When are you going to have kids?” This reader points out why it’s inappropriate for her manager, an older gentleman, to mention it: “Maybe I’m infertile. Maybe my husband is. Maybe we tried for years before giving up. Maybe someone has a genetic disorder we’re afraid to pass on.” It doesn’t matter if none of those things are true, because for someone else, they could be.

Green has a few different scripts for what you might tell him, word-for-word. “The next time he makes another comment about your intentions for your uterus, say something like this: ‘I really don’t want to keep talking about my plans in this area. Thanks for understanding.’” She has more ideas.

4. ‘An Important Business Contact Is Hitting on Me!’

What if a person who could advance your career keeps hitting on you? This scenario is unfortunately familiar, of course, and especially important to address. “What this guy is doing to you is super sketchy,” Green writes. “Picture him doing the exact same thing to a man instead. It’s pretty unlikely that he’d be repeatedly calling a much younger man from his personal cell and asking to meet up all the time … and if he did, it would almost be easier to recognize it as strange.”

Keep declining his invitations, and see if he figures it out, Green says. But if he continues to pursue you, and if your gut tells you something’s not right, cut him from your networking contact list. Here’s why.

5. ‘My Co-worker Wants Everyone to Call Her Boyfriend ‘Master’!’

A woman is in a dominant/submissive relationship with her boyfriend, and at a company holiday party she asks her co-workers to also call him “master.” But no one signed up to be a part of that, Green writes. No one ever has the right to force non-consenting parties into a relationship.

Partner is a conveniently generic term that covers a whole spectrum of possibilities — boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, long-term companion, asexual mate, and so forth,” Green says. “There’s no need to use a term that describes the dynamic between them so specifically. After all, imagine if you had a co-worker who insisted that people identify her partner as her ‘lover.’ It’s too much information, it’s not needed, and it’s understandably going to make people uncomfortable.” Of all the people in your office, here’s who should say something.

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How to Deal With Sexual Harassment in the Workplace