Ending sexual harassment in the world of work requires leadership at every level. Here’s what workplaces can do.

by 11th Jun 2019
Line leader Maly Thorn is supervised by her Production Manager at a garment factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Line leader Maly Thorn is supervised by her Production Manager at a garment factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

At the International Labour Conference (ILC) taking place now (10-21 June 2019), governments, employers and unions are negotiating global legislation on ending violence and harassment in the world of work. A global Convention is vitally important if we want safe and respectful workplaces for everyone because sexual harassment prevention starts with strong leadership and this legislation represents a clear global direction.

Governments can show leadership on this issue by supporting a strong Convention at the ILC, a Convention which protects everyone, everywhere.

Private sector companies can speak out on this issue. In collaboration with CARE, a number of companies – including Avon, Diageo, M&S and Unilever – publicly reaffirmed their commitment to support progress towards gender equality.

Leaders in business or managers in individual workplaces can also show leadership on this issue.

So what can workplace leaders do?

To support our work in Asia, we have analysed global evidence of what works to address sexual harassment at workplace level through a review of evidence. This found individual leaders can have a significant impact if they engage in preventing sexual harassment in the right ways.

Leaders must be VISIBLE

Effective workplace measures need a visible and proactive stance by organisational leaders against sexual harassment.

Leadership must be engaged ALONGSIDE broader efforts

Strategies for engaging workplace leadership must coexist with broader efforts to create more diverse workplaces, promote women’s leadership, and incorporate a broad set of tools including comprehensive trainings and multifaceted approaches to influencing workplace norms.

Leaders must MODEL and UPHOLD workplace policies

Leadership is a critical component of ensuring an organisation’s public ‘commitment’ is taken seriously. Lack of leadership can mean other measures, such as encouraging employees to report sexual harassment through policy dissemination and training, can fail if leadership commitment is perceived to be lacking.

Leadership must go BEYOND the immediate issue

Preventing harassment in the workplace is closely connected to a proactive stance by organisational leaders to building more gender inclusive spaces.

For organisations aiming to prevent and respond to sexual harassment effectively, finding the right way to engage leaders in this is crucial. CARE’s evidence review pointed to a number of promising practices:

  • Promote a network of information leadership: Informal leaders can play a role in building knowledge and perceptions regarding what’s appropriate.
  • Workplace champions: Identifying individual champions or key figures to promote cultures of change and more equitable working conditions.
  • Partnering with feminist and women’s groups: Work with local women’s service providers to develop messaging.
  • Management and leadership commitment: This is essential to promote more inclusive cultures and norms.

Evidence review - ways to engage leadership - graphic

If a strong Convention is agreed at the ILC, it will send a clear message around the world that leaders should take the issue of workplace harassment and abuse seriously. We hope their next action will be to give serious consideration to the most effective steps they can take to prevent harassment and abuse in the world of work.

Read CARE’s full evidence review and summary report at care.org.au/stop.

Suzi Chinnery

Suzi Chinnery is the Project Director for STOP, which works to address workplace sexual harassment in garment factories in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Suzi joined CARE in August 2017. Prior to this she was leading programmes with the International Women's Development Agency and has led numerous programmes across the Asia Pacific region.