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遭遇职场侵犯,该如何应对?

遭遇职场侵犯,该如何应对?

Jennifer Mizgata 2021年09月05日
职场文化必须有所改变,尤其是要打破男性主导的职场准则。

图片来源:Photo Illustration by Fortune; original photograph by Byron Cohen—NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

问题:有一名同事让我很苦恼,我不知道应该怎么跟他说,或者我该为此做些什么。与许多人一样,自从去年突然改为远程办公之后,我一直在家里工作,我要花很多时间参加公司的视频电话会议,而这让我觉得越来越尴尬。在会议期间,有一位资格较老的同事(他不是我的上司,但却是公司管理人员之一)开始在Zoom上用一种闲聊的方式给我发私信,我觉得这不太妥当。

他总是谈论一些私人话题。我们在工作中不常打交道,他给我发私信从来不是因为工作需要。他还会在会议期间对我和其他女性品头论足。或许他认为自己只是在闲聊天或者想表现得亲切一点,但他爱谈论他人的外貌和住处,还会猜想我们的个人生活,这让我很不舒服。我不确定他对我做的算不算过分,但我担心他会得寸进尺,真希望这一切都没有发生。

——米歇尔

亲爱的米歇尔:

我上周在东海岸一个滨海小镇度假的时候,一边牵着狗穿过一个安静的社区,一边思考如何回答你的问题。当我沉浸在思考问题的时候,我的狗则在当地居民家的院子外兴奋地跑来跑去,这时有人对我大喊。我吓了一跳,抬头看到一个陌生人从一辆正在行驶的卡车里对着我飞吻。我过了一会儿才意识到我被人搭讪了。我低下头走开,习惯性地表现得若无其事。

然后我像动画片里一样恍然大悟,回头看了一眼那辆远去的卡车,这时我才明白过来,当我在大街上思考你提出的是否要对工作中面临的潜在骚扰采取行动这个问题时,我竟然被骚扰了。

我很生气。不只是对那个陌生人生气,也在生我自己的气,因为我已经习惯了在大街上被人喊叫,当时竟然没有做出反应。如果不是要给你回信,我甚至不会停下来,或者事后把这件事讲给其他人听,因为这件事情唯一值得注意的是它发生的时间,令我觉得讽刺。我的遭遇与你的相比不值一提,但它却提醒我,如果我们在面对不良行为或者性骚扰时,总是没有态度的话,这种骚扰就会正常化。

你面临的情况更加复杂,因为它发生在工作当中,而且是来自一名比你更有权势的男性。他或许不是你的上司,但显然你一直在权衡他在公司的地位和他对你的表现之间的关系。与街上的陌生人不同,你的事业和信誉都与每天一起共事的人息息相关。你做出应对或者忍气吞声都可能会影响你的前途,而且我感觉这也是你对此摇摆不定的原因。如果你对这个人采取行动,你可能遭到报复,但与此同时,不回复私信似乎也不是一个好的选择。

从我的角度来看,显然你正在遭遇职场骚扰。他可能会做一些(或者要求你做一些)更糟糕的事情,但这与他现在的行为并不矛盾。很可惜,骚扰在我们的文化中根深蒂固,人们早已司空见惯,因此我们经常会对骚扰事件视而不见,并且不会特意拿出时间讨论这些问题。你的遭遇中有一些迹象。你的同事谈论你的方式令你不舒服,你“真希望没发生过这种事情”,而且它正在形成一种令人分心的工作环境。

除此之外,这件事发生在Zoom上,这又增加了另外一个迹象:不仅你在思考如何处理这个人对你说的话,他的信息正在通过一种新的传播方式传播给你的所有同事,这加剧了远程办公的情绪负担。

虽然这种情况在你开始远程办公之后才出现,但实际上网络骚扰比你想象的更加普遍。诺维奇大学(Norwich University)的经济学副教授杰奎琳·斯特雷尼诺发表了研究远程办公和新冠疫情影响的论文。她一直在跟踪网络骚扰现象增多的原因以及新的方式,比如你的遭遇。

她对我说:“远程办公产生或者增强了许多职场性骚扰的风险因素。新出现的信息通信技术(或者其日益普及)是一个重要的风险因素(例如Zoom、WhatsApp、Slack等)。这些通信技术都有一对一侧信道通信选项,这类通信缺少监督或者监督有限,而且没有旁观者。”

皮尤研究中心(Pew Research Center)多年来一直在研究网络骚扰问题。该中心指出,“41%的美国人经历过某种形式的网络骚扰”,而且近几年,骚扰变得更加露骨。

尽管你的遭遇非常普遍,但我们通常没有意识到这是一个问题。骚扰现象频发意味着人们忽视了这类现象,就像我对待搭讪者一样,或者人们没有重视其真正的影响,比如我担心你现在还不确定这是否构成骚扰。但骚扰是一个联合国(United Nations)都非常重视的严重问题。联合国妇女署(UN Women)曾经专门研究过女性在新冠疫情期间遭遇更多网络暴力的现象,并为组织和个人提供了建议。我采访了联合国妇女署副总干事兼副执行主任阿妮塔·巴蒂亚。她解释了在新冠疫情期间网络暴力增加的情况,这与基于性别的身体暴力的情况类似,但网络暴力实际曝光的情况可能更少。她说:“这类暴力更难跟踪,因为施暴者往往隐藏在暗处。女性甚至经常没有意识到自己遭到了性骚扰,以及如何来界定这种现象。她们知道这种情况不正常,知道某些做法是错误的,但她们无法判断这种行为在什么情况下会演变成骚扰。”

不仅骚扰发生的方式令人很难抓到现行,而且工作环境也令女性变得更加弱势。阿妮塔特别强调了虚拟会议给女性带来的挑战。她指出:“远程办公的问题之一是,从事某类工作的员工必须始终在线。你从早上到中午再到晚上,一整天都在开Zoom会议。就接近被骚扰者的机会来说,骚扰者接近被骚扰者的途径变得越来越多。”

你不能起身走开。如果有人给你发私信,其他人并不知道发生了什么,这时候如果你离开虚拟会议室,你可能会错过一些信息,或者让其他人以为你没有专心参加会议。

将你的遭遇定性为骚扰,并了解广泛的背景信息,可以帮助你决定自己是否应该采取行动以及如何行动。雇主负有解决骚扰问题的最终责任,但他们通常会无动于衷,这增加了解决问题的难度。事实上,在2021年,公司管理层绝大多数为男性,而且与以往相比,今年很少有女性进入管理高层,这进一步影响了职场文化。

阿妮塔表示:“男权主义在我们的生活中有巨大的影响力,而且权力结构导致对女性的暴力很容易被忽视。网络暴力尤其有挑战性,因为你没有切实的证据。”

尽管没有实际证据,但你能够记录许多信息。如果你还没有开始这么做,建议你从现在开始就记录下被骚扰的过程。杰奎琳说:“在远程办公环境下遭遇职场性骚扰,唯一对你有利的一点可能是:你可以截屏和/或拍摄下来,将证据保存好或者转交给相关举报方。”

记录行为本身就是一种负担,你作为受害者不得不做多一件事情,这是不公平的。骚扰本身是一种侮辱,而将骚扰过程记录下来,意味着你在决定如何处理记录内容时,要拿出更多时间阅读这些内容。但不做记录也存在风险。你所记录的内容对于你的遭遇能否立案至关重要,它能够证明一种行为模式,并且保护你免于遭到对方的反诉。

如果目前你觉得“立案”这个词过于激进,你或许会想:“嗨,我可以直接跟对方谈谈,让他冷静下来。”如果你愿意这样做当然可以,而且达特亚太中心(Dart Center)发布的一篇报告也建议首先与对方沟通,但在不确定对方可能如何回应的情况下,我不建议你这样做。这份报告中提供了记录同事或老板性骚扰的详细建议。尽管你所面对的并不是像托德·帕克那样的糟糕行为,但性骚扰在我们的文化中已经如此司空见惯,直面这种现象可能给举报者带来不良后果。如果你决定直接面对对方,你应该记录下你们的交流过程。如果他能够真正理解你的感受并从此放弃骚扰,那当然是好事。如果他依旧我行我素,假如他试图报复或者你决定向其他人求助,你所记录的内容就可以带来帮助。

你所记录的资料越详细,它就更有可能给你带来帮助。你的资料上一定要带有时间戳;不要只保留一份没有注明日期的流水账。如果你用手写的方式记录,拍张照片发给自己,这样照片上就会显示事件发生的日期。在Zoom聊天中,你可以将信息截屏。该平台的私信只有发送方或接收方能够查看,因此你下载聊天记录就可以查看私信内容,但其他人却不能代表你下载聊天记录。

你是否要分享自己的遭遇以及在什么时间分享,最终将取决于你自己,而你所掌握的证据的强度,可以帮助你做出最终的选择。你会发现如果你决定继续追究对方的责任,掌握一份证据记录能够给你带来力量。最后,记录自身遭遇的好处在于,你可以与能够采取行动的人分享。

尽管远程办公增加了获取帮助的难度,但你依然可以选择向某人倾诉,并从他们那里得到哪些帮助。你无法直接来到某个人的办公桌前,而是要预约然后透过屏幕与对方交流,这比面对面交流更加尴尬。你的朋友或值得信任的同事,或许会从不同的角度为你提供处理问题的建议。法律顾问能够为你提供专业的法律支持。管理层有责任确立并维护公司的内部文化,但在实践中往往难以预测管理者会如何回应员工个人的遭遇,尤其是当你投诉的对象与他们平级时。如果公司有人力资源部,那么你可以寄希望于该部门采取行动阻止对方的行为,特别是当你能够证明对方违反了美国公平就业机会委员会(EEOC)有关性骚扰的规定时。

值得强调的是,历史上,女性举报这类行为,最终会遭到报复。杰奎琳说:“必须有更完善、更安全(不会使举报人遭到报复)的举报机制。20世纪90年代对美国联邦雇员的一项调查发现,三分之二女性举报者遭遇了变本加厉的骚扰、降级或失业。问题非常严重。”然而,现在人们更习惯了在线办公,因此可以利用通信技术匿名举报,或者设立虚拟监察办公室,为性骚扰举报者提供一个不必担心遭到抵制的途径。

虽然这样说令人失望,但如果你选择直面那位同事,或者他从其他同事那里得知你提出投诉,事情很有可能会升级。如果你还没有这样做,建议你慎重考虑整体网络安全问题,以及你如何在网上更好地保护自己。米歇尔·费里尔的TrollBusters项目提供数字卫生课程,帮助避免骚扰、加强自我保护和防止侮辱行为从线上延伸到线下。罗里·派克信托基金会(Rory Peck Trust)也能够指导你如何在网络世界保护个人隐私信息,避免被人肉搜索。

我到目前为止一直在思考你的选择以及你下一步需要慎重处理的事情,但我们不能因此忽视一个关键点:这种事情不应该发生在你身上。职场性骚扰是公司管理的失败,骚扰者应该对他自己的行为负责。

杰奎琳指出:“归根结底,职场文化必须有所改变,尤其是要打破男性主导的职场准则。更具体的行动包括更新政策和流程,提供识别和举报性骚扰的明确指南。”

工作场所性骚扰问题必须得到积极地解决,并且我们需要反思,一个集体内部文化为什么会允许或鼓励这类行为。阿妮塔说:“我认为领导者的重要性无需过多强调。他们应该以受害者为中心解决问题,真正认识到问题的存在,而不是试图掩盖问题。”

杰奎琳还表示,管理层应该思考Zoom等技术可能对职场文化产生的负面影响:“管理者/人力资源部门有责任管控公司采用的新信息通信技术,以确保它能够为员工创造安全的工作环境,避免职场骚扰现象的出现。”

祝你有好心情。

珍(财富中文网)

问题:有一名同事让我很苦恼,我不知道应该怎么跟他说,或者我该为此做些什么。与许多人一样,自从去年突然改为远程办公之后,我一直在家里工作,我要花很多时间参加公司的视频电话会议,而这让我觉得越来越尴尬。在会议期间,有一位资格较老的同事(他不是我的上司,但却是公司管理人员之一)开始在Zoom上用一种闲聊的方式给我发私信,我觉得这不太妥当。

他总是谈论一些私人话题。我们在工作中不常打交道,他给我发私信从来不是因为工作需要。他还会在会议期间对我和其他女性品头论足。或许他认为自己只是在闲聊天或者想表现得亲切一点,但他爱谈论他人的外貌和住处,还会猜想我们的个人生活,这让我很不舒服。我不确定他对我做的算不算过分,但我担心他会得寸进尺,真希望这一切都没有发生。

——米歇尔

亲爱的米歇尔:

我上周在东海岸一个滨海小镇度假的时候,一边牵着狗穿过一个安静的社区,一边思考如何回答你的问题。当我沉浸在思考问题的时候,我的狗则在当地居民家的院子外兴奋地跑来跑去,这时有人对我大喊。我吓了一跳,抬头看到一个陌生人从一辆正在行驶的卡车里对着我飞吻。我过了一会儿才意识到我被人搭讪了。我低下头走开,习惯性地表现得若无其事。

然后我像动画片里一样恍然大悟,回头看了一眼那辆远去的卡车,这时我才明白过来,当我在大街上思考你提出的是否要对工作中面临的潜在骚扰采取行动这个问题时,我竟然被骚扰了。

我很生气。不只是对那个陌生人生气,也在生我自己的气,因为我已经习惯了在大街上被人喊叫,当时竟然没有做出反应。如果不是要给你回信,我甚至不会停下来,或者事后把这件事讲给其他人听,因为这件事情唯一值得注意的是它发生的时间,令我觉得讽刺。我的遭遇与你的相比不值一提,但它却提醒我,如果我们在面对不良行为或者性骚扰时,总是没有态度的话,这种骚扰就会正常化。

你面临的情况更加复杂,因为它发生在工作当中,而且是来自一名比你更有权势的男性。他或许不是你的上司,但显然你一直在权衡他在公司的地位和他对你的表现之间的关系。与街上的陌生人不同,你的事业和信誉都与每天一起共事的人息息相关。你做出应对或者忍气吞声都可能会影响你的前途,而且我感觉这也是你对此摇摆不定的原因。如果你对这个人采取行动,你可能遭到报复,但与此同时,不回复私信似乎也不是一个好的选择。

从我的角度来看,显然你正在遭遇职场骚扰。他可能会做一些(或者要求你做一些)更糟糕的事情,但这与他现在的行为并不矛盾。很可惜,骚扰在我们的文化中根深蒂固,人们早已司空见惯,因此我们经常会对骚扰事件视而不见,并且不会特意拿出时间讨论这些问题。你的遭遇中有一些迹象。你的同事谈论你的方式令你不舒服,你“真希望没发生过这种事情”,而且它正在形成一种令人分心的工作环境。

除此之外,这件事发生在Zoom上,这又增加了另外一个迹象:不仅你在思考如何处理这个人对你说的话,他的信息正在通过一种新的传播方式传播给你的所有同事,这加剧了远程办公的情绪负担。

虽然这种情况在你开始远程办公之后才出现,但实际上网络骚扰比你想象的更加普遍。诺维奇大学(Norwich University)的经济学副教授杰奎琳·斯特雷尼诺发表了研究远程办公和新冠疫情影响的论文。她一直在跟踪网络骚扰现象增多的原因以及新的方式,比如你的遭遇。

她对我说:“远程办公产生或者增强了许多职场性骚扰的风险因素。新出现的信息通信技术(或者其日益普及)是一个重要的风险因素(例如Zoom、WhatsApp、Slack等)。这些通信技术都有一对一侧信道通信选项,这类通信缺少监督或者监督有限,而且没有旁观者。”

皮尤研究中心(Pew Research Center)多年来一直在研究网络骚扰问题。该中心指出,“41%的美国人经历过某种形式的网络骚扰”,而且近几年,骚扰变得更加露骨。

尽管你的遭遇非常普遍,但我们通常没有意识到这是一个问题。骚扰现象频发意味着人们忽视了这类现象,就像我对待搭讪者一样,或者人们没有重视其真正的影响,比如我担心你现在还不确定这是否构成骚扰。但骚扰是一个联合国(United Nations)都非常重视的严重问题。联合国妇女署(UN Women)曾经专门研究过女性在新冠疫情期间遭遇更多网络暴力的现象,并为组织和个人提供了建议。我采访了联合国妇女署副总干事兼副执行主任阿妮塔·巴蒂亚。她解释了在新冠疫情期间网络暴力增加的情况,这与基于性别的身体暴力的情况类似,但网络暴力实际曝光的情况可能更少。她说:“这类暴力更难跟踪,因为施暴者往往隐藏在暗处。女性甚至经常没有意识到自己遭到了性骚扰,以及如何来界定这种现象。她们知道这种情况不正常,知道某些做法是错误的,但她们无法判断这种行为在什么情况下会演变成骚扰。”

不仅骚扰发生的方式令人很难抓到现行,而且工作环境也令女性变得更加弱势。阿妮塔特别强调了虚拟会议给女性带来的挑战。她指出:“远程办公的问题之一是,从事某类工作的员工必须始终在线。你从早上到中午再到晚上,一整天都在开Zoom会议。就接近被骚扰者的机会来说,骚扰者接近被骚扰者的途径变得越来越多。”

你不能起身走开。如果有人给你发私信,其他人并不知道发生了什么,这时候如果你离开虚拟会议室,你可能会错过一些信息,或者让其他人以为你没有专心参加会议。

将你的遭遇定性为骚扰,并了解广泛的背景信息,可以帮助你决定自己是否应该采取行动以及如何行动。雇主负有解决骚扰问题的最终责任,但他们通常会无动于衷,这增加了解决问题的难度。事实上,在2021年,公司管理层绝大多数为男性,而且与以往相比,今年很少有女性进入管理高层,这进一步影响了职场文化。

阿妮塔表示:“男权主义在我们的生活中有巨大的影响力,而且权力结构导致对女性的暴力很容易被忽视。网络暴力尤其有挑战性,因为你没有切实的证据。”

尽管没有实际证据,但你能够记录许多信息。如果你还没有开始这么做,建议你从现在开始就记录下被骚扰的过程。杰奎琳说:“在远程办公环境下遭遇职场性骚扰,唯一对你有利的一点可能是:你可以截屏和/或拍摄下来,将证据保存好或者转交给相关举报方。”

记录行为本身就是一种负担,你作为受害者不得不做多一件事情,这是不公平的。骚扰本身是一种侮辱,而将骚扰过程记录下来,意味着你在决定如何处理记录内容时,要拿出更多时间阅读这些内容。但不做记录也存在风险。你所记录的内容对于你的遭遇能否立案至关重要,它能够证明一种行为模式,并且保护你免于遭到对方的反诉。

如果目前你觉得“立案”这个词过于激进,你或许会想:“嗨,我可以直接跟对方谈谈,让他冷静下来。”如果你愿意这样做当然可以,而且达特亚太中心(Dart Center)发布的一篇报告也建议首先与对方沟通,但在不确定对方可能如何回应的情况下,我不建议你这样做。这份报告中提供了记录同事或老板性骚扰的详细建议。尽管你所面对的并不是像托德·帕克那样的糟糕行为,但性骚扰在我们的文化中已经如此司空见惯,直面这种现象可能给举报者带来不良后果。如果你决定直接面对对方,你应该记录下你们的交流过程。如果他能够真正理解你的感受并从此放弃骚扰,那当然是好事。如果他依旧我行我素,假如他试图报复或者你决定向其他人求助,你所记录的内容就可以带来帮助。

你所记录的资料越详细,它就更有可能给你带来帮助。你的资料上一定要带有时间戳;不要只保留一份没有注明日期的流水账。如果你用手写的方式记录,拍张照片发给自己,这样照片上就会显示事件发生的日期。在Zoom聊天中,你可以将信息截屏。该平台的私信只有发送方或接收方能够查看,因此你下载聊天记录就可以查看私信内容,但其他人却不能代表你下载聊天记录。

你是否要分享自己的遭遇以及在什么时间分享,最终将取决于你自己,而你所掌握的证据的强度,可以帮助你做出最终的选择。你会发现如果你决定继续追究对方的责任,掌握一份证据记录能够给你带来力量。最后,记录自身遭遇的好处在于,你可以与能够采取行动的人分享。

尽管远程办公增加了获取帮助的难度,但你依然可以选择向某人倾诉,并从他们那里得到哪些帮助。你无法直接来到某个人的办公桌前,而是要预约然后透过屏幕与对方交流,这比面对面交流更加尴尬。你的朋友或值得信任的同事,或许会从不同的角度为你提供处理问题的建议。法律顾问能够为你提供专业的法律支持。管理层有责任确立并维护公司的内部文化,但在实践中往往难以预测管理者会如何回应员工个人的遭遇,尤其是当你投诉的对象与他们平级时。如果公司有人力资源部,那么你可以寄希望于该部门采取行动阻止对方的行为,特别是当你能够证明对方违反了美国公平就业机会委员会(EEOC)有关性骚扰的规定时。

值得强调的是,历史上,女性举报这类行为,最终会遭到报复。杰奎琳说:“必须有更完善、更安全(不会使举报人遭到报复)的举报机制。20世纪90年代对美国联邦雇员的一项调查发现,三分之二女性举报者遭遇了变本加厉的骚扰、降级或失业。问题非常严重。”然而,现在人们更习惯了在线办公,因此可以利用通信技术匿名举报,或者设立虚拟监察办公室,为性骚扰举报者提供一个不必担心遭到抵制的途径。

虽然这样说令人失望,但如果你选择直面那位同事,或者他从其他同事那里得知你提出投诉,事情很有可能会升级。如果你还没有这样做,建议你慎重考虑整体网络安全问题,以及你如何在网上更好地保护自己。米歇尔·费里尔的TrollBusters项目提供数字卫生课程,帮助避免骚扰、加强自我保护和防止侮辱行为从线上延伸到线下。罗里·派克信托基金会(Rory Peck Trust)也能够指导你如何在网络世界保护个人隐私信息,避免被人肉搜索。

我到目前为止一直在思考你的选择以及你下一步需要慎重处理的事情,但我们不能因此忽视一个关键点:这种事情不应该发生在你身上。职场性骚扰是公司管理的失败,骚扰者应该对他自己的行为负责。

杰奎琳指出:“归根结底,职场文化必须有所改变,尤其是要打破男性主导的职场准则。更具体的行动包括更新政策和流程,提供识别和举报性骚扰的明确指南。”

工作场所性骚扰问题必须得到积极地解决,并且我们需要反思,一个集体内部文化为什么会允许或鼓励这类行为。阿妮塔说:“我认为领导者的重要性无需过多强调。他们应该以受害者为中心解决问题,真正认识到问题的存在,而不是试图掩盖问题。”

杰奎琳还表示,管理层应该思考Zoom等技术可能对职场文化产生的负面影响:“管理者/人力资源部门有责任管控公司采用的新信息通信技术,以确保它能够为员工创造安全的工作环境,避免职场骚扰现象的出现。”

祝你有好心情。

珍(财富中文网)

Q: I’m creeped out by one of my coworkers, and I’m not sure if I should say or do something about it. Like many people, I’ve been working from home since we unexpectedly switched to remote work last year, and I spend a lot of time on company video calls, which have gotten increasingly awkward for me. One of the more senior men in the office (he’s not my boss, but he is in management) has started direct-messaging me over Zoom during meetings in a chatty way that feels inappropriate.

The messages are always personal. We don’t work closely together, and he’s never reaching out because he needs something for work. He’s also the kind of guy that often comments in meetings about me and other women. Maybe he thinks he’s making small talk or being friendly, but the way he talks about people’s appearance and their homes and makes assumptions about our personal lives makes me uncomfortable. I’m not sure that he’s crossed a line yet with me, but I’m afraid of encouraging him and really wish this wasn’t happening.

—Michelle

Dear Michelle,

Last week on vacation, I was walking my dog through a quiet neighborhood in a small East Coast beach town, thinking about how to respond to your question. Lost in my thoughts as my little pug enthusiastically explored the edges of people’s yards, someone yelled out at me. I jumped and looked up in time to see a stranger blowing me kisses from a passing truck. It took me a moment to realize I had been catcalled, and when I did, I looked down and away and brushed it off by habit.

Then I did a cartoonish double take and looked back at the departing truck as it dawned on me that I’d just been harassed in the street while weighing your concerns about whether or not to take action on the potential harassment you’re facing at work.

I felt annoyed. Not just at the stranger but also at myself, for being so used to being yelled at on the street that it almost didn’t register at first. If I hadn’t been working on writing back to you, I wouldn’t have paused or brought it up to anyone later, since the only thing that seemed notable was the ironic timing. My incident was minor in comparison with yours, but it is a good reminder that bad behavior—harassment, frankly—can become so normalized we don’t always even register it as such.

What makes your situation even more complicated is that it’s happening to you at work, and it’s coming from a man in a more powerful position than yours. This person might not be your manager, but it’s clear that you’ve been weighing what his position in the company means vis-à-vis how he’s acting toward you. Unlike a stranger in the street, your career and your reputation are connected to the people you work with daily. How you respond—or don’t—might impact your prospects, and I have a feeling that’s why you’re unsure of what to do. If you take action against this man, there may be repercussions for you, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like an option to just not respond to the direct messages.

From where I’m sitting, it pretty clearly looks like what you’re experiencing is harassment. The fact that there are so many worse things that he could be doing (or asking you to do) doesn’t negate the reality of what he’s actually doing now. Unfortunately, harassment is so normalized and ingrained in our culture that we often brush off incidents and don’t take the time to name them. Yet the signs are there. Your coworker is talking to you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you “really wish this wasn’t happening,” and it’s creating a distracting work environment.

On top of that, this is happening on Zoom, which is adding another layer here: It’s not just that you’re questioning how to handle what this guy is saying to you, his messages are also arriving via a new way of communicating with all of your coworkers, compounding the emotional labor of working remotely.

While this situation seems to be a new development since you started working remotely, online harassment is more pervasive than you might think. Jacqueline Strenio, an assistant professor of economics at Norwich University who has published research on the impacts of remote work and the pandemic, has been tracking how online harassment is happening more and in new ways, as you’re experiencing.

“Remote work has introduced or enhanced many risk factors for workplace sexual harassment. New forms of information and communications technology (or increased use of them) are a key risk factor (think Zoom, WhatsApp, Slack),” she told me. “All of these forms of communication technology have options for one-on-one side-channel communication options with limited or no oversight or bystanders.”

Pew Research Center, which has been studying online harassment for years, notes that “41% of Americans have personally experienced some form of online harassment,” and in recent years, harassment has become more aggressive.

What you’re dealing with is so pervasive that we often don’t even recognize it as a problem at all. The regular exposure to harassment means that oftentimes people tune it out—as I did with my catcaller—or downplay the real impacts, as I worry you’re doing by wondering if this is harassment at all. But harassment is such a critical issue that the United Nations is taking it seriously. UN Women has produced research that specifically looks at the increase in online violence women faced during the pandemic, providing recommendations for organizations and individuals. I spoke with Anita Bhatia, assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of UN Women, who explained how online violence, like physical gender-based violence, increased during the pandemic—and is likely underreported. “This kind of violence, because it is so insidious and hidden, is harder to track,” she told me. “Very often, women don’t even recognize that they’re being harassed and how to name it, what to call it. They know something’s off, they know something’s wrong, but at what point does it move from being x to y?”

It’s not just that the way this harassment happens makes it hard to see, it’s also that the working conditions make women more vulnerable. Anita stressed the challenges that are specific to virtual meetings. “One of the things about remote working is that it has, for certain classes of workers, meant that you are online all the time. You’re kind of trapped in that Zoom call after Zoom call, morning, noon, and night,” she said. “Just in terms of the sheer access that a harasser may have to somebody that they’re choosing to harass, they have more access.”

You can’t just get up and walk away. If someone is privately messaging you, others don’t see it happening, and by leaving a virtual meeting, you risk taking on the burden of missing information or appearing to not be engaged with the meeting.

Naming what you’re dealing with as harassment and understanding this broader context is all here to help prepare you to decide if, and how, you take action personally. Harassment is ultimately the responsibility of employers to address, though so often they do not, which can make this quite tricky to navigate. The fact that management is overwhelmingly male, and that fewer women are moving into senior positions in 2021 than they have in the past, further influences work cultures.

“Patriarchy has such a huge footprint in our lives, and power structures are such that it is very easy to ignore issues of violence against women, period. Online violence is particularly challenging because there is no physical evidence,” Anita said.

While there is no physical evidence, there is plenty to document. If you haven’t already started, now’s the time to begin documenting what’s happening. “This is perhaps the silver lining of workplace sexual harassment occurring in remote work settings—you can screenshot it and/or record it and then save it or forward it to the appropriate reporting party,” Jacqueline said.

The act of documenting itself can be a burden, and it’s unfair that it’s one more thing you have to do. The harassment itself is an affront, and documenting it means spending more time with that content while making choices about how to handle the documentation. But it’s also a risk not to be documenting what’s happening at this point. Documenting is critical to build a case around what you’ve been experiencing, to show a pattern of behavior, and, unfortunately, to protect yourself against potential counter-allegations.

If “build a case” sounds too strong to you right now, maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, I could just talk to this guy and tell him to chill out.” You can if you feel comfortable, and a tip sheet from the Dart Center that provides detailed recommendations for documenting sexual harassment from colleagues or bosses encourages this as a first step, but it’s hard for me advocate for that when I can’t read how he might respond. Even if you’re not dealing with a Todd Packer level of bad behavior, harassment has become so normalized in our culture that confronting it can sometimes backfire on the person who calls it out. If you decide to confront him, you should document that interaction. It would be great if he took your feelings to heart and backed off. If he doesn’t, documentation will help you if he tries to retaliate or if you decide to get other people involved.

The better your documentation, the better chance you have that it will be helpful to you. Make sure that your documentation has time stamps; don’t just keep a running document without dating entries. If you take handwritten notes, take a photo and email it to yourself so it’s dated when the incident occurred. For Zoom chats, you can always screenshot the messages. The platform only makes direct messages available to people who sent or received them, so you’ll be able to see those if you download chat transcripts, though others can’t download them on your behalf.

You’re the one who will ultimately decide if and when you’ll share your experience, and the strength of the evidence you’re able to capture will likely inform your choice. You might find it empowering just to have a record in case you decide to pursue things further. Ultimately, the power in documenting your experience will be in sharing that with someone who can take action.

You have options in who you reach out to and what you expect from them, though the way remote work happens also makes it harder to access help. Instead of being able to drop by someone’s desk, you’ll need to make an appointment, then deal with someone through a screen, which is more awkward than being in person. A friend or trusted colleague might offer you perspective and space to process what’s been happening. A counselor can provide support for you. Management has responsibility for setting and tending to internal culture, though in practice, it can be unpredictable how managers might respond to individual situations, especially given that you want to complain about someone in their ranks. If you have a human resources department, hopefully it can take action to stop the behavior, especially if you show that it’s violating the EEOC definition of sexual harassment.

It’s important to point out that, historically, women have faced retaliation for reporting this type of behavior. “There needs to be better and safer (as in retaliation-free) reporting mechanisms. A classic study from the ’90s on U.S. federal workers found that two-thirds of women who filed complaints faced future harassment, demotion, or job loss. This is incredibly problematic,” Jacqueline said. “However, now that workers are more comfortable with working online, there’s an opportunity to leverage communication technology for anonymous reporting or virtual ombudsmen offices to provide backlash-free avenues to report harassment.”

This is a bummer to mention, but there’s a chance that things might escalate if you choose to confront your colleague or if he hears from someone at work that you’ve complained. If you haven’t yet, you should think about your overall digital security and how you can better protect yourself online. Michelle Ferrier’s TrollBusters project offers digital hygiene lessons to help prevent harassment, protect yourself online, and keep abuse from migrating offline. The Rory Peck Trust also has guides on protecting your private information online and protecting yourself against trolling and doxxing.

I’ve been focused on your options thus far, and have given lots of attention to the things that you need to be cautious about as you move forward, but let’s not let that obscure a crucial point: This shouldn’t be happening to you. Harassment at the office is a failure of management, and the person who has been harassing you should be the one held accountable for his own behavior.

“It’s ultimately workplace culture that must be changed and specifically the disruption of masculine workplace norms,” Jacqueline said. “More concrete actions include updating policies and procedures and providing clear guidance on identifying and reporting sexual harassment.”

Workplaces need to proactively address harassment and how their internal cultures may allow or encourage this type of behavior. “I can’t stress enough the importance of leadership taking a victim-centered approach, and of really recognizing this as an issue and not brushing it under the carpet,” Anita said.

Management, Jacqueline added, should also be thinking about how tech such as Zoom can negatively affect workplace culture: “Managers/HR have the responsibility of regulating new and emerging information and communication technology used by the firm to ensure that it allows for workers to work with safety and security, which means free of harassment.”

Sending you lots of good vibes,

Jen

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