“Touched up” – understanding what sexual harassment says about the work-place

Chrissi3-300x202In a week where Rolf Harris has found himself before the courts on a number of sexual harassment charges, we thought it would be a good idea to explain why sexual harassment is a wide spectrum with far reaching implications; that it isn’t down to the individual (man, trans or woman) to complain when it has happened to them, it’s down to the individual (again man, trans or woman) not to inappropriately touch other people.

Sounds obvious? I wish.

We live in a society where inappropriate touching (formally known as sexual harassment) is not taken as seriously as it should be. Personally I’ve been told to “lighten up” when complaining about a colleague grabbing my backside. We have to understand this sends a serious message to people – it says: –
You are in the wrong for NOT putting up with it.

The reason this is a serious message? Besides the fact that it makes people uncomfortable, oppressed, stressed, angry or annoyed? – It also makes people seek new employers and even new industries.

Now I’m not saying construction is the worst sector for this, but we are certainly not the best and we have to start looking at the way we approach things and how this sets individuals up to believe they are entitled to grab, grope and maul away to their perverted heart’s content.

Please note I’m not talking about drunken dalliances with co-workers on nights out here – that’s a different conversation that many of us have stumbled into. Rather, this blog is about how we approach complete strangers in a professional setting.

Let’s use a real life example. We were recently at an awards dinner where the “entertainment consisted of semi-naked women standing around by doors, or doing a bit of sexually charged dancing. There were male entertainers but they were fully clothed and carrying out a skill such as juggling” The first message sent here is that women are primarily there to be looked at, men on the other hand have a use.

Not a great start, but for those of you who might think that I’m looking for it, I agree that as a one off I could let this slide – turns out though they had the same set up the year before – come on, that’s sending a message surely?

Later on in the evening the female host (a very funny and entertaining woman) gave a summation of the tables including the most likely to pass out, the most welcoming, the one that called her an ‘ugly tart’ and the table to go to “if you want your arse touched up”.

The room laughed, and whilst I understand she delivered it in a humorous way – she had to it was her job – as a room we should have been appalled. At a time when we are talking about how we improve the industry’s image, especially to outsiders, what on earth makes us think that that sends out a positive view of the sector?
When I explained my concerns to the organiser the response was, “she didn’t complain, so it’s not a problem”.
I am concerned that if that’s the best we can do at an event that named itself the very best and most progressive of the industry.

As a woman in that room I felt undervalued, I felt that sent a clear message – touching women up is funny, if you don’t think so you’re the problem. For me, the organisers of that evening sent a clear communication. We want women in the industry, as long as they let us touch their asses and laugh at our jokes.

We must, all of us, consider our impact. How can we berate the stereotypical image of a wolf-whistling man on site and not see that this behaviour as equally wrong, if not worse?

The silver-lining was the amount of men that approached us, clients, main contractors and sub-contractors to ask what we thought and voice their own disappointment, and I quote a male bricklayer “it’s outdated and simply not the right place”.

If you’re arranging an event in the industry and you’re unsure of how to arrange entertainment and facilitation that is inclusive and enjoyable, do feel free to get in touch.