Male dominated, strong hierarchies, seasonal employment and limited resources. These are some of the major factors that increase the risk of sexual harassment, according to research. The maritime sector is clearly a high-risk industry.
Sexual harassment is almost always about power: it is a need for someone to assert himself or strengthen his own position in the group by oppressing someone else. That is Anneli Häyrénä’s opinion, gender researcher at the University of Uppsala.
“It usually becomes clear around the coffee table. Someone wants to emphasise something, like they have more right to be there than you, but since they can’t say it directly, they sexualise the message instead, which affects the atmosphere in the whole group.”
Sexual harassment is more common in some workplaces than others. Factors that increase the risk are single-gender dominance (also at female-dominated workplaces against men, even though this is less common), clear hierarchies, shortage of resources, insecure employment conditions.
“If there is a lot of competition for jobs and you don’t know whether there is enough work for everyone, this creates uncertainty and some people tread on others to get ahead,” says Anneli Häyrén.
“The risk also increases in occupations where people live and work closely together in confined spaces. Such workplaces are often very good when everything goes well, but can get really bad if something goes wrong,” says Anneli Häyrén.
“In these environments, there is a strong fear of being outside the group and this can become so strong that people are prepared to sacrifice someone else to stay in the group.”
Victims of sexual harassment are often people who stand out in the crowd, such as a strong person who takes space or a woman in a male-dominated workplace. The agent is often someone with power, like a manager or an informal leader.
“A bully is not just anyone in the crowd,” says Anneli Häyrén. “People who feel good, who are secure and stable, rarely harass others. It’s more likely to be people with low self-esteem and a big need to gain attention.”
”Be careful with the banter”
Banter is something that can easily degrade into bullying, insults and sexual harassment. If a person describes the tone at their workplace as ”rough but friendly”, watch out, says Anneli Häyrén.
“Banter is tricky. It often starts with everyone being involved and it’s light-hearted, but then it changes into something else. For those who are offended, it’s almost impossible to fight back, because then you’d be spoiling the mood, you’re boring and you can’t take a joke. Even if you put your foot down, there’s no guarantee it will help. The bully may not be able to accept a warning and things escalate instead.”
Anneli Häyrén believes the solution in such cases must come from the managers and supervisors, since it is their responsibility to set the limits for what is acceptable and how staff communicate with each other.
“Clear leadership tends to make people follow the rules, even those who are inclined to harass,” says Anneli Häyrén. “There is rarely much sexual harassment at secure, stable workplaces with good leadership.”