The Current

Sexual harassment in the workplace? Not according to Canadian male executives surveyed

Sexual harassment is not a problem at work according to male Canadian executives surveyed — despite almost a third of them saying they know of specific cases.
Sexual harassment isn't a problem in the workplace, according to 153 Canadian executives surveyed. Ninety-five per cent interviewed were male. (pixabay.com)
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Story transcript

Sexual harassment isn't a problem in the workplace, according to a large majority of Canadian male executives surveyed.

"I think either the executives are suffering from some kind of wilful ignorance," said Jennifer Berdahl, a professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business.

"Or they're not listening to their employees, or not paying attention to what's happening in their organizations, or they don't consider it a problem."

The Gandalf Group's quarterly C-Suite Survey interviewed 153 Canadian executives — 95 per cent were male — in November and December. Asked if sexual harassment was a problem in their companies, 94 per cent didn't think it was an issue — despite 31 per cent indicating they were aware of specific cases.

This stands in stark contrast to what employees have to say. A Statistics Canada survey earlier this year of 1,349 respondents, many who were women, found that 30 per cent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment at work.

A Statistics Canada survey earlier this year of 1,349 respondents, many who were women, found that 30 per cent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment at work. (Shutterstock)

'Real disconnect'

"Over 30 per cent of these executives said that they had heard of sexual harassment within their organizations yet 94 per cent of them said it wasn't a problem," Berdahl told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"So there's a real disconnect even within the executives themselves."

I can only come forward now because I actually don't need those jobs.- Martha Hall Findlay

Martha Hall Findlay, president and CEO of Canada West Foundation, called the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace "widespread," describing her own experiences.

"I can only come forward now because I actually don't need those jobs. And this is where it's really important in that moment, 20, 25 years, 30 years ago, when these events happened. I actually didn't feel I had a choice."

"Because if you do come forward in a circumstance like that, you can be fired, you can be denied other opportunities, your reputation suffers. There's no question people coming forward in a corporate environment like that will be labelled whiners are problematic."

Hall Findlay said she can come forward, but "there are a lot of people who still can't."

'Where it's a serious problem, it should be zero tolerance,' said Martha Hall Findlay. (Canada West Foundation)

'Harassment based on sex'

Berdahl said sexual harassment is often understood as this very extreme Harvey Weinstein form of sexual harassment.

However, hostile environment harassment — sexist and joking comments that put women down — and create an environment that makes it clear that women aren't welcome or respected is much more common, according to Berdahl.

"Sexual harassment is defined as harassment based on sex. Simply put," said Berdahl.

"So it doesn't necessarily have to be sexual predation. It can be just harassing somebody, making their work environment uncomfortable based on their sex or their gender."

Our push is to motivate the reasonable majority to speak up and support their co-workers.- Hugh Pelmore

Hugh Pelmore, CEO of ARETE corporate training services in Vancouver, said that most people —  men and women — know how to behave in a workplace.

"Probably three or four employees in a hundred that cross that line — either refuse to play by the rules or just don't recognize that their behaviours are problematic."

"Our push is to motivate the reasonable majority to speak up and support their co-workers rather than come in and teach people how to behave."

Berdahl pointed to an "organizational culture problem where you have a social network of men who might be protecting each other." (pixabay.com)

Penalties for sexual harassment

Where it's a serious problem, it should be zero tolerance.- Martha Hall Findlay

Hall Findlay called on penalties for those who cross the line.

"If you steal, if you engage in fraud, these activities are cause for immediate dismissal. This kind of behaviour [sexual harassment] … there are different degrees of how you deal with it and what the specific examples and circumstances are."

"Where it's a serious problem, it should be zero tolerance."

If the company isn't willing to say this person could be disciplined or possibly terminated — if organizations aren't willing to do that, according to Pelmore, "those few people, who are crossing the line, recognize that and continue with their behaviours."

We tend to see sexual harassment being most prevalent in organizations that are dominated by men that have very few women in leadership positions.- Jennifer Berdahl

Berdahl pointed to an "organizational culture problem where you have a social network of men who might be protecting each other."

"The CEO may not be the harasser, but maybe friends with the harassers, and not doing anything about it," said Berdahl.

"And we tend to see sexual harassment being most prevalent in organizations that are dominated by men that have very few women in leadership positions, and that have certain aspects of their culture that signal that in order to make it here, you need to be a 'real man,' or you need to be able to put up with and engage in this kind of bantering behaviour."


This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino and Samira Mohyeddin.