Thirty years ago, today’s reality of women as a fully integrated part of the the workplace was an unimagined scene, and the rapid changes in the workforce have created an environment for some women that is rife with harassment.
Since the majority of upper level management positions around the world are still held by men, it is difficult for a woman who feels she is being harassed to be open about it, both due to embarrassment and to the cultural norms regarding the discussion of anything, especially taboos between unrelated persons of the opposite sex.
Although there have been many positive changes in the last thirty years, women generally earn almost one third less than their male counterparts and the wage gap is still widening. Surveys show that women need to work more and more in order to contribute to their family income and have to work longer hours to keep themselves and their families above the poverty threshold.
When we read or discuss sexual harassment, the immediate thought thats pops into many people’s minds are scenes as brutal as rape, or as commonplace as being insulted in the street. However, there is also a psychological harassment and social stigma many women deal with in the workplace. Many women grow up being told they are more fragile than men and that it is OK to be submissive or to earn less than their male colleagues.
Although both men and women may suffer psychological harassment, I believe women tend to be more susceptible to it, as they are easier bait for bullies.
The most common kinds of psychological harassment in the workplace are: discrediting, humiliating, preventing the person from expressing herself and destabilizing – in short: bullying the person and lowering her self esteem.
These are not just generalizations and statistics, here are some real stories from my close friend group:
A friend of mine shared a story with me about how she felt sexism against her when she worked abroad a few years ago; Given the fact that she worked at the largest nationalized energy company, she assumed that she would be respected or at least treated professionally. However, she felt that although the men she worked with knew that she was far more educated than them, they somehow could not seem to let go of the notion that they were inherently more intelligent due to their gender.
When asked if she believed the local men were afraid to harass a foreigner, she said: “I think that due to a foreign woman’s perceived ‘power,’ most local men probably would not mess with her in the first place.” She believes that these men were afraid of the ‘power’ coming from the individualism of an ex-pat in their office. “If a foreign woman comes [to this country], it usually means that she has seen and done quite a bit in her life, and I think this is intimidating for them,” she explained.
Another friend of mine had to quit her job after feeling her work was not valued and because she was suffering psychological harassment. She enjoyed working for the same company for almost a decade when a new manager joined. In the beginning they got along well, until her manager started making rude jokes about her performance and prevented her from having lunch with her colleagues.
My friend was in a tough situation and she could have spoken to her director or even with the manager who was harassing her, but instead she chose to leave. It is possible that if she had proven to the HR department that she was a victim of harassment, she would probably still be working at her beloved company. Unfortunately, women often feel it is easier and smarter to leave the situation instead of fighting back since they have seen negative repercussions for women who have fought back.
The consequences of harassment are serious and must be addressed urgently.
The major issue I’ve seen is not sexual harassment, but emotional or psychological harassment based on the outdated notion that no matter how smart a woman is or how hard she works, her work will always be valued less than the work of a man. It is unbelievable and frustrating that this is still an unsolved issue in 2015.
Suzana was born and raised in Brazil and has worked in China and Pakistan. She is a life and career coach and loves motivating everyone around her with her positivity towards life. She is curious, bubbly, and loves to cook. If there is something she ought to learn, she would definitely give it a try!