Sexual Harassment Allegations In International Organizations

The #MeTo Movement has influenced and shifted perception of a woman’s value in the workplace. Harassment has been imbedded in the international organization workplace. Yet legal and institutional policies have been slow to enforce change in an international organization. Sexual harassment is not only a liability for the organization but effects reputational and business risks, ie., government funding.

Generally, the majority of allegations of sexual harassment in international organizations are alleged by women.

Should a female staff member raise a harassment allegation? If a woman has the courage (yes it does take courage to challenge an organization) she should not be met with the response “How’s your family”; “How’s your child”, without addressing the issue. To lose a job is to lose your livelihood to support one’s family. In international organizations, especially in field duty stations, sometimes women are the main breadwinner of the family. Whether single mothers or the main breadwinner of the family, harassment needs to be reported and respectfully addressed.

All organizations have prohibition of sexual harassment policies and a Code of Conduct. The issue is one of enforcement of the policy and providing safeguards that a staff member feels protected as an alleged victim. The Organization must address a single allegation as a cause to undertake a fact-finding investigation. One fact-finding investigation upon an allegation may lead to other victims to file accusations.

Sexual harassment is about power and opportunity. A manager in a remote field office or a director at headquarters may feel that by virtue of gender, race, or professional status he or she may have the power to harass without professional repercussions. How do you change the workplace culture of an international organization? It is not enough to assume a change in the wording of a policy will change the actions or mentality of a manager. One report of sexual misconduct should spur the Organization management into action to address whether the allegation is valid or false.

It must be acknowledged and recognized that a staff member may file a false and malicious allegation of harassment against a manager for failure to support career opportunities. In these instances, whether to substantiate evidence for a sexual harassment allegation or to clear false allegations, it is crucial that an independent impartial investigation be undertaken. This is an opportunity for the Organization to show staff that harassment allegations are taken seriously and action will be taken.