Last weeks have been simply crazy. As a result, I finally caught the flu I magically avoided for the past 8 months (and, believe me, with a 2 year old attending daycare, it's really called magic). As a positive consequence, I get some free time to blog.
Among other news, I would like to tell about the well-being event we had at the science campus last April 22nd: Kumpula Campus Well-Being Event: workplace free of harassment (*). I am excited about it for many reasons. First, I pushed to have it and helped organise. Secondly, I love my workplace and I was so glad to see good attendance and a common will to bring up uncomfortable topics to improve our work well-being.
Even though sexual harassment was mostly treated, the event referred also to bullying and other forms of harassment. After some opening words by the Dean Prof. Jouko Väänänen, where he strongly stressed the zero tolerance policy of the Faculty, Pia Puu Oksanen, director of Naistenlinja, shared some insights on abuse, the victim's perspective and the responsibilities that bystanders have.
Merja Soosalu, head of the university well-being unit, and Terhi Somerkallio, the university equality adviser, explained in detail what the institution policy and procedure are.
After the presentations, the audience asked many questions. What should I do if I witness some inappropriate episode? Whom should I talk to if I suspect I may be a victim of harassment? When I looked around, I was pleased to see that the audience was very heterogeneous. Men and women in equal proportion, undergrad students as well as tenured professors, administrative and support staff. As it happens with domestic abuse (that has many aspects in common with harassment and bullying), victims and perpetrators come from the most different backgrounds (**). In other words, it is or may be everybody's problem.
Putting aside the moral issue and implications, every workplace faces a shameful economic loss in terms of productivity because of sexual harassment (notice, I don't even consider other forms of harassment now!). A malsane work/research environment can turn into low morale, low motivation, lack of concentration, absenteeism or sudden termination of an employee (and his/her projects), not to mention bad reputation and consequent loss of potential good researchers or students. At this point I must appear as an alarmist, getting crazy for a minor problem. Let me give you some figures to convince you this is not the case:
- between 40 and 50% of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work. (UN Women),
- studies in Europe have been showing that an high percentage of women sexually harassed on the workplace experience low productivity and even psychosomatic symptoms that force them at home (UN Women report),
- as an example of annual cost, it has been estimated that sexual harassment costs US army $ 533 millions annually (***).
I would like to stress once more, that in the last paragraph I focused on sexual harassment only. The question of harassment and bullying is even wider!
I am really happy the Faculty of Science at University of Helsinki has started an open dialogue on the matter and I hope other faculties will soon follow and take part. If you are a HY employee and you feel you may be a victim of improper treatment, you can find assistance by contacting the well-being unit. If you'd rather talk to someone external in an anonymous way, you can contact Naistenlinja (men can call as well). If you witness some inappropriate episode, the best thing you can do is approach the victim in private and be an active listener. Being pushy can have the opposite effect. Provide the victim with practical information (university policy and contacts).
In any case - and I quote the Naistenlinja's pamphlet - take no shit.
(*) If you missed it, find the full video here (accessible only for HY employees).
(**) Several studies have proved that domestic violence crosses all social and economic classes in equal measure.
(***) I struggled to find estimates for Europe. However, the source I quote (see here) provides some formulas to calculate an estimation.