Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace and mediating change

Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace and mediating change


Sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue that continues to plague many organisations, causing emotional distress, affecting productivity, and destroying the overall well-being of employees. As organisations strive to create inclusive and respectful workplaces, the role of mediation in addressing and resolving sexual harassment becomes increasingly significant. This blog post explores the complexities of sexual harassment in the workplace and examines how mediation can be a beneficial tool for fostering resolution and promoting a culture of respect.

Understanding Sexual Harassment

Understanding sexual harassment is crucial in adopting a safe and respectful environment for everybody. Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome and inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature, which can manifest in various forms such as verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct. It is important to understand that anybody can be a victim of sexual harassment as it is not gender specific. Sexual harassment may take various forms, including:

■ unwelcome advances
■ requests for sexual favours
■ explicit comments
■ unwanted and unconsented touching
■ creating a hostile workplace environment
■ offensive jokes
■ explicit and/or offensive imagery

Respectful communication, consent, and setting clear boundaries are integral components of cultivating a culture that rejects and condemns any form of sexual harassment. Society can work towards eradicating sexual harassment and ensuring a more inclusive and equitable environment for all, by educating individuals about the impact of such behaviour, fostering a culture of empathy, and promoting open dialogue.

The Impact of Sexual Harassment

The impact of sexual harassment extends far beyond the immediate incident, affecting victims both personally and professionally. Victims who experience sexual harassment may face emotional distress, anxiety, depression, a decreased sense of self-worth, and a decrease in job satisfaction. Beyond the immediate psychological toll, sexual harassment can lead to physical health issues, intensifying stress-related conditions. Moreover, the toxic workplace atmosphere created by sexual harassment can lead to decreased productivity, decreased personal growth, increased turnover, and reputational damage to the organisation, as well as difficulties forming trusting relationships as the trauma effects their ability to form interpersonal connections.

The prevalence of sexual harassment can also contribute to a broader culture of fear and silence, as individuals may hesitate to report incidents due to fear of victimisation, retaliation, or disbelief. Overall, the ripple effects of sexual harassment extend beyond the individual, negatively impacting organisational dynamics, societal norms, and the overall well-being of communities. It is imperative to address and combat this issue comprehensively to build a society that values dignity, respect, and equality for all.

Where does mediation fit in?

Mediation is a confidential and voluntary process where a neutral third party, the mediator, facilitates communication and negotiation between parties involved in a dispute. In the context of sexual harassment, mediation offers a structured and supportive environment for open dialogue, allowing both the victim and the alleged perpetrator to express their perspectives and work towards a resolution. Dignified Dispute Resolution Mediators are fully equipped to facilitate such dialogues and always foster a sensitive environment, making use of shuttle mediation where necessary, ensuring that the parties are never in the same room together. This harbours a safe environment for all.

Benefits of Mediation in Addressing Sexual Harassment

■ Confidentiality:
Mediation provides a confidential space for parties to discuss their concerns without fear of public exposure. This confidentiality can encourage individuals to speak more openly about their experiences, fostering a more honest and productive dialogue.

■ Empowerment:
Mediation empowers victims by allowing them to actively participate in the resolution process. It gives them a voice in shaping the outcome and helps rebuild a sense of control and agency over their own work environment.

■ Preservation of Relationships:
Unlike formal legal proceedings, mediation focuses on finding common ground and preserving relationships within the workplace. This can be especially beneficial when the individuals involved need to continue working together.

■ Efficiency:
Mediation is often a quicker process than legal proceedings, allowing for a timeous resolution. This efficiency is crucial in minimising the negative impact of the harassment on the individuals involved and the overall work environment.

■ Cost-Effectiveness:
Legal battles can be costly for both individuals and organisations. Mediation is generally a more cost-effective alternative, saving resources that can be redirected towards implementing preventive measures and promoting a healthy workplace culture.

■ Unique Solutions:
Mediation allows for creative and unique solutions tailored to the specific circumstances of the case. This flexibility enables parties to address the root causes of the conflict and implement changes that can prevent future instances of harassment.

■ Educational Opportunities:
Mediation can be an educational process, raising awareness about appropriate workplace behaviour and fostering a shared understanding of the organisation’s values. This can contribute to the development of a culture where respect and inclusivity are prioritised.

Challenges and Considerations

While mediation holds numerous benefits, it is essential to acknowledge its limitations and potential challenges. Some cases of sexual harassment may be so severe that legal intervention becomes necessary. Additionally, the power dynamics within an organisation may hinder open communication during mediation. Therefore, it is crucial to approach each case with sensitivity and a commitment to ensuring a fair process.

Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace is a multifaceted challenge that requires a comprehensive and empathetic approach. Mediation stands as a valuable tool in this endeavour, offering a confidential, empowering, and efficient process for resolving conflicts. Organisations that prioritise mediation in conjunction with robust preventive measures are better positioned to create workplaces where every individual feels respected, valued, and free from the detrimental effects of harassment.

Dignified Dispute Resolution offers workshops, seminars and a free E-book educating, empowering, and supporting individuals and organisations on sexual harassment. Our accredited and experienced mediators facilitate in resolving sexual harassment disputes in a sensitive and professional manner for all parties involved.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing sexual harassment, please reach out to Dignified Dispute Resolution for assistance as you deserve to work in a safe environment free from fear, victimisation, and intimidation. We provide constructive and effective assistance in a trauma-informed manner.

Written by Allison Borchardt BCur (ADR Network, SJAM), a mediator is private practice