All the accounts that came after the silence was broken by the #lättaankar campaign are shocking, both in number and content. The culture of silence is about power, and it has been the norm in shipping for a long time, just like in other areas where harassment takes place. Harassment puts shame and guilt on victims; they are degraded and ridiculed and their competence is questioned. There is an unwillingness to talk about harassment, both on the part of the victim as well as colleagues and managers, who are more or less passive spectators.
This is not a reporting problem; it is a work environment and safety problem that demands urgent preventive work. Nor is there a lack of knowledge. Research shows that simple training programmes on victimisation that many companies rush through as a sort of lip service have very little effect or are even counter-productive, since they reinforce stereotypes. This is particularly the case when training focuses on what we should not do rather than what and how we should do. There are a number of measures with strong support from research that can break the silence and ensure that victimisation cannot get a foothold in the work-place. They are about daring to rock the boat and giving passive spectators the tools and the courage to act.
You don’t need to act like superman and confront an aggressor in an unpleasant situation. Instead, you can say you don’t think a comment was funny or appropriate. Another way is to disrupt the situation by asking if the victim wants a cup of coffee, changing the subject, or even dropping something on the floor. You can ask the bully questions afterwards, such as, “Do you realise how you came across in that situation?”
Several studies show how important it is that the victim is not left alone in her experience. If you don’t have the courage to intervene in a situation, you can contact the victim afterwards and give them support: “I saw what happened there – are you OK?” “You haven’t done anything wrong. Can I help you?”
A bully often tests the limits and a good workplace culture reduces the risk of harassment escalating into serious abuse. Like everything else, we need to practise handling this kind of situation. So don’t be afraid of rocking the boat – rock it as much as you can! A sustainable work environment in a sustainable shipping industry is good for everyone involved.
Cecilia Österman, researcher at the Kalmar Maritime Academy