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Harassment at work 1

Online discrimination against women in the workplace

Last month, an open letter to the UN Generation Equality Forum was signed by over 200 high-profile women; including Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and advocate for Women’s Rights, Emma Watson.

The petition was another wake-up call that discrimination against women is still prolific, particularly within the workplace. This has become increasingly common on social media, a place where the nameless can become ‘keyboard warriors’.

Online ‘trolling’ – the new bullying!

With the internet being over 30 years old now, the presence of online bullying has become more accessible for all ages, especially through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to name a few.

The term ‘trolling’ refers to someone writing derogatory, insensitive and anti-social comments to others through the internet. These comments are often made just to provoke others to start an argument, but it can lead to severe cyber-bullying, with tragic results.

With the pandemic forcing thousands to work from home, the presence of these online ‘trolls’ has made it all too easy to target people through the internet, at all times of the day and night. This has been seen more so for women than men.

What does online discrimination in the workplace look like?

In a report by CIPD in 2020, women were more likely to report that they had experienced bullying and sexual harassment than men (17% v.s 13% and 7% v.s 2% respectively) over the past three years. Another survey showed that over half of women had experienced being undermined and humiliated at work. The full report can be viewed here.

More worryingly, a survey by charity Rights of Women, found that there had been a surge in online sexual harassment since the pandemic – with 45% of women experiencing sexual harassment remotely, through texts, social media and cyber harassment through platforms like Zoom and Teams. Many women found that using team webcams made them feel their privacy was being invaded.

How can you as an employer help prevent online discrimination?

Due to the pandemic, many women have felt that reporting harassment has gone unnoticed by their employers, because of the difficulty speaking to the accused in person. This has resulted in a feeling of being ignored and having to continue to work with the person(s), making their work-life very difficult to cope with.

As an employer, it is your duty to ensure that strict policies are put in place to protect your employees from harassment. A sexual harassment policy should be enforced that includes online behaviours. It is important to make sure the policy is available to all employees and that a zero-tolerance attitude is expected.

More importantly, allow a ‘safe space’ where a complaint can be made in private and with full animosity (if required) and that the appropriate disciplinary action is taken. Make clear to employees the best way to get in touch to make a report, and impress that any complaint will always be taken seriously.

Finally, if a complaint is made regarding online harassment, take all steps to find out the source (this can be done through discussion with your IT department). If necessary, it may be prudent to put in special filters through emails to flag any inappropriate wording.

How SFB Consulting can help you

At SFB Consulting, we are experienced in assisting businesses put in place the appropriate policies to prevent harassment in the workplace. As it is important to ensure your managers are trained to know what is acceptable and what is not, we have a number of training options available and can tailor these to suit your needs. Should you need assistance with the above, we are happy to help. Just call us on 01279 874676 to discuss further.