Get Rid of Traditional Approaches in Preventing and Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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Sexual harassment is often used as a tool to assert power and dominance. As Teresa Fitzsimmons, Director of Workplace Dynamics at Lausanne Business Solutions, notes, “Sexual harassment is a signal of an individual having a lack of respect for another... [it] evolves out of disrespect and asymmetric power.” That asymmetric power can refer to a man harassing women, but as his research found, seniority can complicate the picture.

The act of sexual harassment is full of power relations. Even for women workers who are at strategic or management levels, the risk of vulnerability to sexual harassment is still the same. Male workers also have the possibility of becoming victims, but in reality, female workers are still the dominating victims because of their vulnerability.

The Never Okay Project (NOP), the first mission-based initiative in Indonesia that supports communities and institutions in creating a world of work free from sexual harassment, has been trying to build awareness among workers since 2017 and is now starting to assist victims through collaboration with several legal aid agencies and psychological institutions.

In 2020, NOP conducted research to look at the situation of sexual harassment during the pandemic. The findings are that working from home and online does not guarantee a reduced risk of sexual harassment in the workplace. There is a need to define the act of sexual harassment in the workplace more broadly. For example, prospective workers up to leaders should be counted as part of the work environment. Also, the context of the workspace is not only in cubicles but also online.

Based on the presentation from Alvin Nicola, Founder of Never Okay Project in the webinar Sexual Harassment in The Workplace: Get Rid of the 'Old School' Approaches (26/11/2021), there are several levels of intervention in sexual harassment. The individual level is the first stage. At this level, it is further divided into 3 stages, namely recognizing sexual harassment practices by increasing awareness and knowledge, checking anti-harrasment regulation in the workplace, trying to build a healthy work culture as a form of prevention, and increasing gender sensitivity. Secondly, define the boundaries of friendship and professionalism, emphasize the boundaries of public and private spaces, reprimand the perpetrators if the case can be handled alone. And lastly, Report by noting the chronology, asking for sanctions or union support, and peer support.

“The second level is the individual as a witness. Sometimes when we see or hear a friend or coworker being sexually harassed, we don't know what to do. And 5D, Delay, Direct, Distract, Delegate, Document are some of the things that need to be considered when it comes to intervening,” added Alvin.

  1. Delay: Interventions carried out after the incident. For example, after the incident is over, check the condition of the victim, and be willing to be a witness in reporting.

  2. Direct: Interventions carried out directly at the time of the incident. Check your security first. For example, securing the victim, reprimanding the perpetrator.

  3. Distract: Strategies for ending the incident by distracting the perpetrator. For example, switch the conversation.

  4. Delegate: Strategies for delegating interventions to more qualified parties. For example, asking a senior coworker or HR to reprimand the perpetrator.

  5. Documents: Document events in photos, videos, and/or chronological notes to support reporting. Be careful not to share the documentation without the victim's consent. 

There are still many unresponsive work institutions that see the prevention of sexual harassment as something that needs to be regulated or institutionalized. NOP has received hundreds of stories from survivors, showing that dealing with sexual harassment cannot only be from a community or labor perspective but also requires a more strategic level. So the third level to intervene in the act of sexual harassment is the level of the employer.

“Structural problems need a structural response as well. Therefore, it requires commitment from high-ranking parties in the workplace," said Alvin.

Employers must establish and enforce clear rules for preventing and dealing with cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. Ensure this policy is comprehensive, across employee lifecycle, during recruitment, orientation, promotion, and resignation. Employers and companies also need to establish independent reporting bodies that are fair, safe, and must side with victims. And lastly, conduct socialization and training as a provision to fill knowledge gaps.

Employer's or Company's Efforts in Sexual Harassment Intervention

The Body Shop Indonesia is one of the companies that already have policies and practices to prevent and respond to cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. Three principles are prioritized in The Body Shop Indonesia when they want to carry out affirmative action, namely, workers have an understanding of different forms of sexual harassment, are free from fear, and have a sense of certainty.

"There are also three things that we do [to prevent and respond to cases of sexual harassment], namely communication and socialization, governance and psychological support, and complaint channels," said Mercy Aritonang, Human Capital and Strategy Director of The Body Shop Indonesia.

Mercy also added that it is important to ensure that all leaders must support and sponsor all existing activities and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) as a form of commitment to creating a safe work environment for all workers.

The commitment of the leaders is also an important thing that is ensured by PT Pertamina (Persero) Tbk in carrying out the Zero Harassment campaign launched on August 31, 2021.

From an organizational perspective, it also emphasizes that all those involved in the business entity of PT Pertamina (Persero) Tbk are responsible and must protect themselves from harassing anyone, both female and male workers, superior or subordinate.

PT Pertamina (Persero) Tbk has developed a system to support this commitment. Starting from the communication channels that are available online, offline, and various media, including the PertiwiPertamina society. Even the leaders provide their mobile phone numbers to be contacted directly by workers who want to complain about sexual harassment cases in the workplace.

"When management shows an extraordinary commitment to support a zero-harassment work environment, it makes people think again about doing it [sexual harassment] because the lines of communication we have created are so open," said Indira Pratyaksa, Vice President of Corporate Culture & Business Partner of PT Pertamina (Persero) Tbk.

PT Pertamina (Persero) Tbk is aware that creating a work environment that is free from discrimination, violence, and harassment can provide opportunities for companies and organizations to work together with stakeholders and improve business performance.

Efforts to Handle Cases of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The Body Shop Indonesia has a sexual harassment reporting case process that begins with the victim or witness providing detailed explanations in the form of a report, such as what the complaint was, when it occurred, where it occurred, and by whom. From the report, investigations and interviews will only be carried out until all the reports are proven. After that, all the evidence will be presented to the panel. If there is a decision against the perpetrator, all decisions will be conveyed to the relevant stakeholders.

“During the investigation, the situation must be very unpleasant, especially for the victim. So, we are working with Pulih Foundation to assist survivors. If it is very confidential, the company has an employee assistance program that allows victims to contact a psychologist,” added Mercy.

PT Pertamina (Persero) Tbk also does the same thing, especially for complaints submitted through official channels. Some parties are even prepared to help deal with sexual harassment cases and look at various aspects, ranging from internal audit, security, to human capital. Sanctions for perpetrators will be given according to the severity or severity of the sexual harassment case.

Both The Body Shop Indonesia and PT Pertamina (Persero) Tbk, ensure that this case cannot be accessed by other parties who are not interested so that they still respect the comfort and human rights. If it is to be used as a learning case, the names and identities of the parties involved will be kept confidential.

Patterns of sexual harassment are not fixed or constantly changing, so prevention and treatment need to be updated. For example, when harassment occurs online, how to submit a correct report so that it is not subject to the article on the Information and Electronic Transaction Law. Prevention and handling of cases of sexual harassment must also not be gender-biased which causes injustice to the victim. There must be strong support or infrastructure (systems) from various parties in the company for reporting. Therefore it requires attention from many parties, not only workers or companies but also the government.

Webinar series episode 4, Sexual Harassment in The Workplace: Get Rid of the 'Old School' Approaches, discusses in depth how to prevent and overcome sexual harassment in the workplace with two IBCWE member companies, The Body Shop Indonesia and PT Pertamina (Persero) Tbk on 26 November 2021. The activity was organized by IBCWE and the International Labor Organization (ILO), sponsored by the United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Funds (UN MPTF), and supported by One CHRP, Info HR Indonesia. Watch the Webinar Series Eps. 4, Sexual Harassment in The Workplace: Get Rid of the 'Old School' Approaches on Youtube Channel IBCWE.

26 November 2021

Tiara Tri Hapsari