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See full article by Terri Williams in The Economist:

In an insightful article by Terri Williams entitiled," Workplace sexual harassment and the Culture of Silence" she exposes how many corporations have developed a "culture of silence" around the issue of sexual harassment which makes it very difficult and uncomfortable for a victim of sexual harassment to report.

Williams agrees with professor Penkart at Indiana University who explains that:

“Victims are often in positions of low power and voice, especially in relation to the perpetrator, and organisations are sometimes structured in ways to discourage reporting,” he explains.

A further contributing factor to the "culture of silence" in many workplaces is that most employers focus on "pro forma policy and training requirements, rather than requiring more proactive steps to address deeply-seated cultural issues that contribute to harassment".

Williams refers to research conducted by Stephanie Redlener who identified 4 types of silence commonly found in workplaces where sexual harassment is part of the culture:

a) Defensive- when faced with people in positions of authority who behave inappropriately employees often use silence as a way to protect themselves within the poisoned work environment that this behaviour often creates for them.

b) Offensive- silence can be a victim's way of expressing their disapproval of the inappropriate behaviour/response by their employer or a person in authority and used as a way to "level the playing field".

c) Futility: Silence can also be a sign of "apathy or cynicism" that can be experienced if you have tried to take action in the past with disapointing results.

d) Social: employees are often reticent to report because they are concerned about how their co-workers will react and they want to maintain their peer relationships.

Redlener concludes that companies who don't take active steps to prevent sexual harassment by creating an emotionally healthy work environment are at great risk. she notes that:

...repeated instances of sexual harassment, or even one instance of egregious conduct, can be devastating to a company.” In addition to the financial implications of sexual harassment lawsuits, Adler warns that these organizations may have difficulty hiring new employees, and experience low morale and high turnover rates. They can also lose the loyalty of their customers.

In order to avoid these negative consequences, "companies have to be proactive and intentional in creating a culture that treats employees with respect and dignity". It is also important for employers to have a clear "one and done" policy regarding all forms of sexual harassment and to provide training to all employees and managers that emphasizes prevention and creating an emotionally respectful work environment.

The Legal Clinic offers free virtual workshops for employees and employers about how to prevent and appropriately manage sexual harassment complaints in the workplace. Our next session will be for employers/managers/board members and will take place by Zoom on October 30th at Noon. For more information about The Legal Clinic's Sexual Harassment in the Workplace project contact Anne-Marie Langan at 613-264-7153 or or visit our website

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