Photo: Reuters
JOHANNESBURG -  Almost a third of South African women (30%) and just short of one in five men (18%) have indicated that they have been victims of workplace sexual harassment, with only about 16% of total victims reporting the matter.  

These are the findings of a survey conducted by insights agency Columinate. The survey reveals that most South Africans are keeping quiet about sexual harassment in the workplace, with 10% of victims fearing retaliation if they report the matter.

Columinate’s research report described the results as “somewhat dismaying”, and concluded that South African companies need to improve their sexual harassment policies and procedures to ensure businesses protect their employees.

What can be done to educate and empower employees?

Based on the survey’s findings, a lot of work is needed in South Africa to prevent or curb sexual harassment in the workplace. Companies need to ensure that their employees know how to report incidents and don’t have to fear repercussions for reporting the behaviour.

They should also make sure that there is sufficient training for anyone who witnesses or experiences sexual harassment in the workplace in order for them to intervene, support and report these matters.

Sexual harassment education, communication and training of employees are more than a ‘nice to have’. According to the Amended Code of Good Practice in the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases in the Workplace, employers are required to include sexual harassment as part of their orientation, education and training programmes.

Introducing ‘A better place to work - preventing sexual harassment in the workplace’

“Sexual harassment is morally reprehensible behaviour that must be eradicated in the workplace,” says Aadil Patel, National Practice Head and Director of the Employment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH).

If employers ignore sexual harassment in the workplace, they don’t only fail in their ethical responsibilities towards their employees, but they also open themselves up to extensive financial risk and reputational damage.

“At CDH, we want to ensure that employees feel empowered. This is why we are introducing the first-ever eLearning module on sexual harassment in South Africa,” adds Patel.

Employers can mitigate risks and reputational damage by empowering their employees through education and training, equipping them with the right skills to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. Properly trained employees should be able to identify, act on and prevent incidents of sexual harassment.

BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE