In March 2019 the lack of sexual harassment policies in some of South Africa’s political organisations made the headlines.
These parties are but a handful of the larger companies and organisations in South Africa who have not yet addressed sexual harassment and workplace bullying. Not to mention the medium sized and smaller companies who are simply and often unaware that they even need one.
During the last two years Staff Training have presented many sexual harassment awareness training sessions and we have been privy to a great number of instances, cases and confusion regarding the topic, as well as a good understanding of just how pervasive this behaviour is in our society today.
The repercussions of sexual harassment in the workplace are far reaching for the victims, the perpetrators and the organisations. The cases are often lengthy and drawn out and can cost millions. Or at the least so fraught with doubt and insecurities, that they are simply never even reported. The impact on victims can be devastating on both a personal and a career front, and often comes at a great cost to the company. The repercussions for the perpetrator can equally result in serious loss to both the perpetrator and their organisations. The bottom line is that sexual harassment is a no win situation.
Why then does it continue to pervade the work place and why more so in some industries or companies than in others?
1. Firstly in South Africa we have far too many companies who do not have any form of policy in place. As a result perpetrators can be unaware that they are crossing a line and victims do not know how to access assistance. In addition there are few people who understand exactly what sexual harassment is and how the victims can be of all ages, genders and sexual orientation.
2. Secondly when a company has no policy, it is unlikely that their management would know what to do should a complaint of sexual harassment arise. And some even well meaning managers may well cross an ethical line in discussing the matter or handling it inappropriately.
3. Too few companies are embracing the subject of sexual harassment in their wellness and diversity programmes, hence there are no discussions and sexual harassment or workplace bullying continues to thrive in a culture of silence.
4. In some industries considered to be traditionally male such as the mining and motor vehicle industry it has nearly become part of the culture as it has been left unattended to for so long. New recruits then either leave or adapt and the organisation can lose great skill and much money as a result.
5. In this research brief from the Human Rights Commission it becomes abundantly clear that whilst SA may have one of the most advanced constitutions in the world, it is a very different thing from having an intrinsic value of equality in the workplace or at home.
Whilst individuals continue to accept this inequality it is not likely that SA will ever reach the point where we are able to decrease the devastating workplace statistics regarding sexual harassment.
Essentially the only way to try and eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace is to make sure that organisational policies are in place, that management and HR are fully up to speed not only on the legalities of how to respond to any sexual harassment allegations but also on how to ensure that all personnel understand what a more positive company culture is. And then to fervently pursue this ideal.
As our companies grows and morph and the employees come and go, it is essential that our policies and values remains common knowledge in the organisation and the only way we at Staff Training see this version of positive culture creation being possible, is to ensure the inclusion of the sexual harassment and workplace bullying policy in an on boarding session.
The solutions we thus offer our clients are as follows:
1. Face to face training sessions with all staff members and management – preferably no less than 4 hours to ensure sufficient time for interactive discussions
2. The inclusion of your own policy and redress procedures in such a session i.e make sure that everyone knows what the procedures are to lay a complaint as well as training those who are receiving the complaints as to their professional, moral and legal obligations
3. Follow up training online, to ensure that each individual is able to progress through a set of assessment questions confirming their understanding of the legalities, policies and procedures and what exactly construes unwelcome behaviour.
4. Online training (with a measured outcome that can be kept on file) at the stage of orientation, to ensure that everyone in the organisation is on the same page
5. Continued focus on broader context inclusion in the workplace( i.e diversity, equity, equality) and at team building events
6. In some instances we would suggest pre and post workshop surveys enabling a much better understanding of the challenge we are being faced with regarding bullying, sexual harassment and inequality in general.
In conclusion thus I quote from the SAHRC Research Brief on Gender and Equality 2013 – 2017 to illustrate just how pervasive a problem, sexual harassment is in the workplace, let us all make sure it does not take place under our watch.
“Unfair discrimination complaints on listed grounds at the CCMA: August 2014 to March 2016 on an annual basis…The vast majority of grievances lodged on the basis of unfair treatment relate to sexual harassment”
For more info contact us at 0861 996 660 or drop us an email.
Debbie is the MD at Staff Training, providing soft skills and leadership training for South Africans since 2000. Should you wish for Staff Training to put together an annual training package for you covering aspects of management, wellness and self-mastery, please email [email protected]