A1307 Sexual harassment -still an insufferable workplace nuisance for too many women

Tuesday, March 20, 2012: 16:00
Coba (Cancun Center)

Kaisa Kauppinen, Centre of Expertise for Work Organizations, Finnish Institute Of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland
According to a study from the European Commission, 30 % of working women are victims of sexual harassment in Europe. Sexual harassment is serious and widespread but often misunderstood and difficult to deal with in workplaces. Sexual harassment is unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. It is not about fun or friendship. Sexual harassment takes many forms: verbal, non-verbal and physical. The aim was to study the incidence of sexual harassment among the Finnish working-aged population in 2009 as part of the Work and Health in Finland Survey which is monitored every third year by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

The target group was a random sample from the population register which is representative of the whole Finnish working-aged population from 25 to 64 years of age. The total number of interviewees was about 3000 (half women, half men). One well-defined question about sexual harassment has been included in the survey protocol since 1997 when the first survey was conducted.

Altogether, 3 % of women and 1 % of men had experienced sexual harassment during the preceding 12 months. In absolute number this refers to some 31000 women and 12000 men. Sexual harassment was defined as unwelcome verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature which the victim defined as repulsive. Sexual harassment was most typically mentioned by women in the age group (25-34); 7 % had experienced sexual harassment. Hierarchically, women encountered sexual harassment more often from their co-workers and clients than from their superiors. The consequences of sexual harassment were both physical and psychological in nature.

Sexual harassment creates an insufferable working environment for the employee and therefore requires the employer to build a harassment-free workplace culture. There are enough research documents, legislative instruments and good practices to put preventive rules in action.