Sexual harassment in the workplace is not always as overt as you might imagine. While blatant cases of harassment are more easily recognized, there are subtle, insidious forms that often go unnoticed.
Recognizing these subtle forms of sexual harassment helps you advocate for workplace safety.
Innuendos and sexual jokes
One subtle form of sexual harassment is the use of innuendos and sexual jokes. While seemingly harmless, they create a hostile work environment, making individuals uncomfortable and anxious. Jokes or comments of a sexual nature, even when disguised as humor, can belittle and degrade coworkers, perpetuating a culture of disrespect.
Subtle forms of this harassment can include unsolicited compliments about appearance, repeated requests for personal information or invitations to private social gatherings that make someone uncomfortable.
Microaggressions are subtle acts or comments that demean an individual based on their gender or sexuality. Examples include making assumptions about a person’s abilities or career choices based on their gender or making subtle but hurtful comments about their appearance.
With the rise of technology, sexual harassment has extended into the digital realm. Cyber harassment can include unsolicited explicit messages, sharing inappropriate content or the spread of rumors and gossip.
The EEOC recorded more than 5,500 sexual harassment complaints in 2021, and more than 27,000 between 2018-2021. Employees should feel confident reporting these behaviors. Recognizing and combating these subtle forms of harassment will help you protect yourself and others in your workplace, making your work environment a safe, supportive one.