In a new study by Queens School of Business, 57% of working Canadians have experienced or witnessed workplace harassment, which is defined as “an upsetting comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome; it may include bullying, intimidating or offensive communications, isolation, hostile non-verbal displays, or sharing offensive pictures or materials.” Even more surprising are the number of female perpetrators.

According to this research, based on a survey of 1505 Canadians, 30% of women are harassed by other women, 47% of women are harassed by men, and 23% by a mixed-gender group.  For men, 53% of them are victimized by other men, 32% are harassed by a mixed- gender group, and in 15% of the cases men were harassed by women.

“It’s really shocking how prevalent this [harassment] is throughout the Canadian working population,” says Jana L. Raver, Ph.D. who is an associate professor at Queen’s School of Business.

It is typical to think of males as harassers, and although in most cases men are the perpetrators, what this study shows is the prevalence of females as harassers. Previously, there wasn’t much research done with a focus of females as harassers, but within the last ten years, perspectives on the issue have shifted and there’s more acute awareness of what constitutes harassment. The newer and more comprehensive legislations may also be reflective of the higher statistical findings.

The research shows that in cases where a woman is being the perpetrator, she is far more likely to choose another woman as her victim, but it also reveals that women are twice as likely as men to report harassment that comes from another woman.

The term “workplace harassment” was and is often used to refer specifically to sexual or gender related harassment, targeted at females by males in the workplace, but over the last few years the discourse has shifted and what is deemed as harassment is much more comprehensive.

In 2009, Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act was amended with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace, and other matters, adding to the definition of “workplace harassment” to also mean engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”

This change came about after the recent surge of media attention on the issue of bullying and has influenced changes in the workplace environment around the globe. Due to this recent change in the definition of what consitutes harassment it has yet to be seen whether increased attention to the problem will have a positive impact on these trends.

“I love that we’re talking about it and raising consciousness about the issue and I really hope that we continue to have these discussions and find ways to just make it culturally unacceptable,” says Dr. Raver.

Canada has been proactive in bringing about awareness but there’s still much progress to be made. Companies need to take initiatives further than just putting policies in place. Leaders should also be trained in interpersonal relational skills and be equipped in recognizing and dealing with cases of harassment.

If you are a victim of harassment, Dr. Raver advises to initially give the bully the benefit of the doubt, but if the problem persists you should then follow your organization’s reporting procedures and be vigilant in holding your employers accountable, since it is their responsibility that the issue is resolved.



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