Fending Off The Jerks: How To Deal With Sexual Harassment At Work

Debmar-Mercury 20th Television

Whether you're an entrepreneur in a small office setting or you work in a large corporate office, learning how to navigate sexual harassment is a painful and tricky process. Often women aren't sure when to report or what is considered harassment. Will people think the situation is being overblown or exaggerated?

Women who want to succeed in a male dominated office environment have to learn how to thrive in it. When it comes to unwanted attention or flat out harassment, it's a tough thing to navigate. How can you take the incident seriously and manage it successfully while not stifling your business ambitions or killing your confidence?

After working in countless office environments from small start ups to large corporate offices, here are a few observations I have made that have helped me along the way.

1. Don't sweat the small stuff:

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Part of an office environment involves joking around. Guys tease one another all the time. How many times have you heard a man give another man a hard time about his clothes or his habits? It's tricky because men and women can be very different creatures in how we do and should relate to office joking.

There are things that are harassment and then there are things that are part of company cultures or your work place environment in general. Try to gauge whether what you're experiencing is something that singles you out in particular or as a woman. If all the guys in your office tease each other, expect to get teased. Chances are, if you can handle it and tease them right back, you're probably going to be accepted more readily as a teammate by your co-workers. I'm not saying that any of this is fair, but life is inherently not fair, and it's often the people that are willing to work with what they are given that do the best.

2. Know where to draw the line:

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All that being said there are definitely lines that should not be crossed and you will often know in your gut when someone has crossed the line into sexual harassment that should never be tolerated.

Some joking and office banter is fun and tolerable and some isn't. When it isn't, you need to call it out immediately.

Completely change your demeanor and be direct. Make it very clear to whoever it is that they just crossed the line big time. It can be as simple as "Hey, that's not funny, please stop," to something more serious like, "You just made me very uncomfortable and I don't ever want you to say (or do) that again."

3. Rise above the haters and find allies:

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You can't be complacent when it comes to harassment, but you should certainly choose the right way to engage with a perpetrator. If the harassment is in front of other people, you don't have to lower yourself to their level by immaturely engaging their vulgar behavior.

One of my good friends Samantha is head of sales at a ticketing company and she is highly intelligent and also strikingly beautiful. After spending weeks putting together a proposal to present to her companies upper management team (all men), she encountered one superior, who during her presentation made lewd and demeaning remarks to the other managers within ear shot-- specifically regarding her competency based on her gender.

Rather than engage him directly, my friend instead stood taller, finished her presentation on a high note AND got the support of the other men in the room. This situation only ended up helping her. She gained more respect from her companies upper management team because of how she handled herself during an uncomfortable situation. She ended up getting a promotion, not to mention the disrespectful manager was fired based on his behavior.

4. Try not to mix business and pleasure:

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If you're going to be dating someone you work with, just really ask yourself if the relationship is worth more to you than your job, because more often than not, even when the relationship doesn't end badly, it can create an awkward situation for you at work.

What happens if dating someone at your company creates drama with you and your co-workers? What if this causes a rift between you and your team? Basically, office romances often end badly or at least with one partner leaving to work a different job. Just be very clear when making these types of decisions, because it can get messy very quickly.

Basically, don't shit where you eat....

5. Tell your HR about your harassment sooner rather than later:

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Often times if you report you're being sexually harassed to your HR department they want to monitor the situation before taking any action, so the sooner you telI someone about it, the better. PLUS, you'll be more likely to have someone on your side who is looking out for the signs that these actions are truly taking place when you need it most.

The situation is obviously trickier if you're a female entrepreneur and the harassment comes from, say, a board member or potential investor. But remember: You never should have to endure harassment. Talk about the situation with someone you trust. Then go directly to the harasser. Be clear and strong, and insist that the situation change--or you will make it change. Just remember, you can't be an effective leader if you're constantly worried about your safety in the workplace.

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