Enough is enough: How to intervene when you witness sexual harassment

Back to Blog

“Knock it off, buddy”

Brief statements like this one have incredible power. As a bystander witnessing a colleague being harassed, interjecting with a short comment like, “that’s not funny” or, “leave them alone” can call attention to the inappropriate behaviour, deescalate a potentially serious situation, and signal to the target of the harassment that they are not alone.

Everyone has a right to feel safe at work. A target of workplace sexual harassment may feel anxious, annoyed, distracted, afraid, depressed, or suffer a physical injury. Their co-workers may feel stress, guilt, or distraction, which can lead to accidents, or to workers leaving the site, company or even the industry for a safer work environment.

Knowing what to do and say in the moment may be overwhelming and bystanders can feel unsure how to act or what to say. For this reason, Susan Lomas, a professional geologist with Lions Gate Geological Consulting Inc. and president of the Me Too Mining Association (MTMA) developed a four-hour bystander intervention training program for people in the mining industry.

Me Too Mining Association

Lomas officially founded the MTMA in 2018 to start conversations about sexual violence, sexual harassment, harassment, bullying, intimidation and discrimination in the mining and mineral exploration industries and mining impacted communities.
“Many people working in our industry, we’ve built our armour,” said Lomas, “We’ve built all of our protections and defences, and we kind of get desensitized to what’s happening to us or around us.”

When the Me Too movement – a global campaign supporting people to speak out about sexual harassment and assault – made headlines in 2017, Lomas started “unpacking” situations she had experienced in her 30 years in the mining and mineral exploration industry in Canada and globally.
“I was remembering not only my own experiences, experiences that I had dismissed,” said Lomas, “But experiences other women had told me, and I thought, we need to do something about it. But mostly we need to start talking about it within our industry, and nobody was doing that.”
Lomas started the @metoomining Twitter account in January 2018 and attended PDAC in Toronto the following March where she handed out red ‘Me Too Mining’ buttons, and shared stories with other PDAC attendees.

Although Lomas was nervous to start MTMA, she has received encouraging feedback in person and online, numerous invitations to speak at conferences and is joined by three other directors on the MTMA board. The MTMA website has resources for people in mining who are targets of harassment or who want to lend support. Bystander Intervention training is one of these resources.

In a 2017 federal government survey, 94 percent of those who reported experiencing sexual harassment [in the workplace] were women. Given that mining and mineral exploration workplaces are still overwhelmingly male, and women are more often the target of sexual harassment or violence, men are likely to witness numerous incidents during their career.

“The bystanders carry this pain with them because they saw things happening, but they didn’t know what to do,” said Lomas, “They didn’t know what to say. And that takes us into this bystander intervention training that we’ve taken on.”

Bystander Intervention training

MTMA’s bystander intervention program teaches the DIGGER acronym, a list of what you can do when faced with or witness inappropriate behavior in the workplace, if it is safe to do so.

Direct action

Speak to the harasser directly. MTMA have a list of suggestions on their website, including: “That is not OK” or “Do not say that to her” or “That is harassment”. If direct action in the moment is not an option then talk to the harasser later, in a more private setting, and say: “I heard what you said earlier, and I want to talk to you about it. I think it was really inappropriate.”

Indirect, interrupt and distract

If direct action is not appropriate, try interrupting or distracting the harasser. Lomas said: “You can drop something, or you can spill a drink. You’re just trying to break the scenario of what’s happening, take the tension away.” Suggesting the target take a walk with you or asking an unrelated question, such as, “Was that you being called on the radio?” are other indirect actions.

Get a co-worker or activate bystanders

Enlisting the help of a co-worker is another option by using questions like: “Your friend looks uncomfortable. Can you go check on them?” or “Are you OK with this?”

Get an authority

If safety is a serious concern, “you can get a security guard, you can get a manager, a supervisor, and bring them into the situation,” said Lomas, “Call 911 or the RCMP, or whatever local authority there is.”

Engage with the target

“Is there something I can do to support you?”
After an incident, offer to write down what you saw, email it to them, and be a witness. Bystander intervention also includes offering support to the target after an incident.

Record and document

The MTMA website provides a list of details to record after an incident, in a journal, electronic document or in an email to your personal email address. These include the date, time and location, and the names of harassers, targets and witnesses. Too much detail is better than too little.
“When we’ve given this course,” said Lomas, “There is a lot of discussion around “I never thought of doing that.” And you don’t automatically go to writing something down and sending them an e-mail. Saying “I saw what happened. Here’s my record of it for you” is so powerful.”

Report

Finally, report the incident to your company. Lomas said, “In most research on this, 75 to 80 percent of sexual harassment in the workplace goes unreported.” If a company has no proper reporting mechanism, or fails to act, or has a dissatisfying outcome, complaints may be filed with an outside agency, such as WorkSafeBC or Engineers and Geoscientists BC.

Common Sense and Kindness

At the training, Lomas emphasizes that what she is teaching is mostly common-sense behaviour. The purpose of the training is to label it and organize the information and remind people that it is okay to say something and help someone.

“Workers have a right to be safe at work,” said Lomas, “particularly in this industry when we work in such isolated sites at times with smaller groups, or exceptionally large groups of people from all different kinds of backgrounds, education, attitudes, and limits on behaviour.”

“At the end of the day, it is a worksite. People are there to work, and they just want to go home and be safe. That this is a health and safety issue is our biggest message, and there are ways that we can work to lower its existence within our industry, and it’s time.”

It is time.

By Kylie Williams.

Make sure you never miss a blog and follow our social media channels; Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram