More than half of Canadians say they’ve witnessed at least one instance of inappropriate sexual behaviour at work, according to a new report by Statistics Canada.
The report on gender-based violence and unwanted sexual behaviour found men were slightly more likely (56 per cent) than women (53 per cent) to have witnessed this behaviour in a work setting. “That, to me, says they have more opportunities to intervene, and so companies should focus on building healthy bystander culture,” says Gillian Hnatiw, a Toronto-based lawyer specializing in sexual assault and harassment cases.
She suggests the policy is framed as a way to support the employee who’s the subject of the conduct, not as punitive to the employee who’s the harasser. “Just because they are laughing or seeming to shrug it off doesn’t mean it’s actually inconsequential to them.”
The survey also found women were more likely to be the target of inappropriate behaviour. Three in 10 (29 per cent) women said they experienced one or more instances within the 12 months preceding the survey, in comparison to less than two in 10 (17 per cent) men.
The most common behaviour cited by both women and men was inappropriate sexual jokes (18 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively). It also found women were subject to unwanted sexual attention (15 per cent) or physical contact (13 per cent), as well as being mistreated, ignored or excluded based on their gender (10 per cent), at much higher rates than their male colleagues (four per cent, five per cent and three per cent, respectively).
Women working in male-dominated industries experienced the highest rates of inappropriate behaviour. Four in 10 (39 per cent) women working in a male-dominated environment said they’ve been targeted by unwanted sexual behaviour, in comparison to 27 per cent of women in a female-dominated environment and 28 per cent of those in gender-balanced workplaces. For men, 24 per cent said they experienced inappropriate behaviour in female-dominated environments, 16 per cent in male-dominated spaces and 15 per cent in gender-balanced workplaces.
Reducing sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct in the workplace is complex and requires more work than simply implementing a policy or conducting an annual training session, says Hnatiw.
“It involves building a workplace that really has no place for this kind of conduct in its culture. That’s both setting a clear message in policy, having effective ways of enforcing that policy and also encouraging a culture among its employees to call that out and hold their co-workers to account.”
And a formal complaint shouldn’t be the only option for victims or witnesses, she adds. “The best policies in my opinion provide a number of pathways forward . . . . If there are more informal ways to go about having a matter addressed, then oftentimes somebody will opt for that.”