• Paula Koller-Alonso

To report or not to report? That shouldn’t be the question.

In the world we live in, why is it the norm not to report sexual harassment, while reporting remains an abnormality. And how does that affect our workers?

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In 2018, sexual harassment in the workplace cost the Australian economy $2.6 billion. Where are these costs coming from? When an individual is harassed, their productivity radically decreases and they may leave their job altogether.

Because in most cases, a target of sexual harassment is statistically more likely leave their place of work than to report the harassment. And even if they do decide to remain with their company, their productivity decreases, due to the trauma that they experienced and/or the uncomfortable conditions under which they now have to work. This can make them skip days of work, come in late, or feel anxious and depressed.

You would think that a loss as big as $2.6 billion would shock the working environment into changing their behaviour and focus a bit more on finding solutions to sexual harassment — unfortunately it hasn’t. And it has also not encouraged more workers to come forward with their stories and report their sexual harassment.

So we decided to do our own research to better understand how targets of sexual harassment changed their behaviour at work or during their studies as well as their perception of sexual harassment.

Numbers with Meaning

And just as we believed, our results were very much in line with our research hypotheses: most people do not report — and that non-reporting can lead to serious and damaging behaviour for the employees themselves, lest the company for which they work.

Out of 579 people who took part in our survey, almost half (47%) said that they had experienced sexual harassment. 12 % had responded that they were not sure if they had — and that is an astonishing number that demands scrutiny on its own, at another time.

However, out of those 272 people who responded that they had experienced some type of sexual harassment, only 7% actually reported it to the institution in which it occurred. That is 19 out of 272 people who felt the environment was safe enough, had the courage or the need, to report this behaviour.

And if we separate this 7% further into gender, we find that only 5% of women who experienced sexual harassment actually reported it, while only 4% of men did. Although these seem like striking numbers, they fall very much in line with the general findings on the reporting of sexual harassment in the workplace.

However, it does seem that while people might not be as willing to report the occurrence to any type of higher authority, they do feel more comfortable sharing their story with those closest to them. 66% of respondents said that they had mentioned their experience of sexual harassment to a friend or colleague — 53% of women, yet only 18% of men. While 28% of men and 30% of women did not report anything, nor even mention their experience to anyone.

While it is a positive development that employees are sharing their experience with those closest to them, it is equally important to report the harassment. Not only does it encourage more individuals to come forward with their experience (cue the #MeToo movement), it also forces a company to confront not only the harasser, but the working environment they have created.

A Negative Change: Sexual harassment can have a deep impact not only on working conditions, but also on personal behaviour. The harassed target can often feel alone, embarrassed, or traumatised after such an incident, or multiple incidents. Therefore, it is imperative that working environments install departments and training that enable employees to find themselves safe and secure when reporting.

As mentioned above, the traumatising circumstance of sexual harassment, leads to a lack of productivity and harmful personal behaviour. Our survey reflected this with over half (51%) of our respondents saying that they changed their behaviour at work or university due to the incident of sexual harassment.

Seeing as sexual harassment is entirely the harasser, and quite frankly the institution’s (for allowing such behaviour to occur in the first place) fault, it seems highly unfair that it ends up being those who experience it that falter in their own productivity and behaviour.

Yet, despite this injustice, people’s behaviour still changes due to the experience of sexual harassment. In our survey, we found that:

  • 39% said they had trouble concentrating at work or university

  • 32% said they could no longer perform at work or university to the best of their abilities

  • 18% said they made excuses to not show up to work or university

  • 9% said they left class or work early

  • 4% said that they would come late to class or work

Interestingly enough, this behaviour changed based on gender. In fact, more women (65%) than men (48%) said that the incident of sexual harassment did not cause them to change behaviour.

Although this is speculation, we hypothesise that it is possible that women experience sexual harassment on such a higher daily basis than men (see our previous article), that they have adapted their response to these types of incidents.

Instead of changing their behaviour to avoid the harasser, or quitting work, they might just be “sucking it up” and “moving on” with their work. If this were to be the case, we believe that the injustice of not reporting is even higher. Whilst sexual harassment should not force you to change your behaviour, it should also not be so common, that you cannot do anything but go on with your day.

A high cost, an even higher pain: Looking at these numbers from our own survey more closely, we come to understand how sexual harassment can cost an economy so much. At an average weekly wage of $1,244 in Australia, each case of sexual harassment adds up to 4 working days of lost output.

Considering that these incidents can make people come late, stop people from coming to work altogether, or even make employees quit, it is then really no surprise that it incurs such a huge loss to a company. Apart from the fact that a company should have more interest in their environment’s social impact and their employees’ well-being in the first place.

At Metta Space we believe that the beginning of change lies in the way that we report sexual harassment. If more companies had a service, such as the one that Metta Space is offering, in place, which makes reporting anonymous, but also facilitates its ease, then maybe employees would be more encouraged to report.

If more employees are encouraged to report, then more individuals would feel more empowered to speak out, handing the power from the harasser, to the harassed. And if the power is in the hands of those who have been targeted, then maybe we can finally start eradicating sexual harassment from the workplace.


Written by: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of Research & Development at Metta Space

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