What is sexism and sexual harassment?

We have created an online course together with GoLearn Concrete management tools to prevent and deal with violations

On the course you will learn:

surveys to conduct to map the current work environment in relation to sexual harassment
How to prevent violations and sexual harassment with concrete actions and procedures
How to develop a Code of Conduct at work
How to work on a daily basis to ensure a respectful and inclusive work environment
How to handle as a manager a current situation where an employee has been violated

What's the difference between sexism and sexual harassment?

Sexism is biased or discrimination based on gender – and it is mainly used as an expression of the denigration of women. Sexism can be expressed, for example, by the fact that as a woman you experience being interrupted repeatedly by your male colleagues, experiencing "mansplaining" or being passed over to important projects. 

Sexual harassment are offensive acts of a sexual nature and include all forms of unwanted sexual attention such as:

  • Unwanted touches
  • Unwanted verbal calls for sexual relations
  • Lewd jokes or comments
  • Unauthorized queries on sexual topics

Sexism and sexual harassment are about exploiting unequal power relations, which is why the most severe sexism and sexual harassment typically affects the lowest-ranking employees and why women in particular experience sexist remarks. 

Why is it important to end sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexism and sexual harassment are illegal. And it is dealt with both in the Danish Equality Act, the Equal Treatment Act, the Danish Working Environment Act, the Danish Liability Act and the Criminal Code. But what does the Danish legislation actually say? 

The Equality Act states that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination on grounds of sex. 

The Equal Treatment Act obliges employers to provide employees with a harassment-free environment and, to a reasonable extent, to protect them from sexual harassment. 

The Health and Safety at Work Act requires companies to ensure that employees do not get sick from going to work, including as a result of sexual harassment. 

The Liability Act also allows people who have harassed others to face claims for damages, or they can be charged with indecent exposure under the Criminal Code. 

In addition to being illegal, sexism and sexual harassment can have serious consequences for the individual and for the company. The personal consequences can range from irritation, humiliation and difficulty concentrating, to sleep problems, anxiety, depression and, at worst, post-traumatic stress disorder. The cost to the company can be low job satisfaction, distrust, insecurity, increased absenteeism, lower productivity and high staff costs. 

It is therefore a socially, economically and socially responsible responsibility, and it is therefore important that we collectively prevent and deal with a sexist culture in the workplace. That's why we've compiled the following advice on how to thwart a sexist culture in the workplace:

3 councils to thwart a sexist culture at work

Create greater understanding and define workplace values

In order to prevent sexism and sexual harassment, it is important to understand what lies behind it. Research shows that sexual harassment typically occurs as a result of a sexist culture in the workplace, where there are also often other problems.

These include risk factors such as unclear norms and values, inadequate communication and information, opposing requirements and insecurity. Sexism is therefore combated not by identifying scapegoats, but by highlighting the fact that it is the culture and structure of the workplace itself that needs to change. It may therefore be a good idea for you to engage in a common dialogue in the workplace about what you understand about sexual harassment and sexism. In addition, it is important that you define your values and norms in the workplace.

Find out what you stand for and what you won't accept. This makes it easier to find good values to act on and to speak out when someone behaves in a sexist or harassing way, because you know that you are united on another set of values. 

Investigate the problem quantitatively AND qualitatively

Check how the problem occurs in your workplace. What is the scope? A single question in an APV is not enough. Indeed, many will be questioned directly as to whether their experience is sexual harassment at all, and it does not reveal whether there is a sexist culture in the workplace. Instead, ask more nuanced to the culture at work and have many open answer areas. Nuanced and specific questions can help to evoke experiences and events that the respondent would not initially associate with the concept of sexism or sexual harassment.

By asking questions based on examples of situations, you will thereby uncover the extent of sexism in your workplace much more in reality. Here, anonymous questionnaires can be an advantage. 

Also be sure to investigate the problem qualitatively. Here it is important that the process is facilitated by someone who the employees trust and who does not have a power relationship with the individual. For example, it could be an external consultant, the trust representative or the occupational safety and health representative. Avoid big meetings as these don't leave room to talk about experiences of sexual harassment or sexism. In the analysis, you should focus on the culture and structure of the workplace rather than on the individual employee. 

Create ethical infrastructure

There should be clear guidelines on where to go as an employee if you experience sexism or sexual harassment, and a clear framework for how such cases are handled and dealt with. Therefore, make sure that there is not only one place you as an employee can go. You need to be able to feel comfortable telling your experience, so the more places and people you can go to, the more likely you are to do so. In addition, it must be quite clear how the information is processed. Therefore, make sure that policies on sanctions are ready. Managers and trustees must also be well dressed and trained to prevent, understand and deal with both sexism and sexual harassment. 

If you need professional help to discourage sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, please contact us here!

Learn about preventing and dealing with sexual harassment with us

In this course, management consultant and inclusion expert Nikoline Nybo will provide you with a series of action-oriented tools aimed at mapping out exactly how things stand in your workplace in relation to sexual violations.

You can also watch a course for employees in which Nikoline talks to Manu Sareen about grey areas and violations in the workplace. Watch it here.

Portrait of Nikoline on a black background. She is facing the camera straight on and wearing a denim high-neck dress and silver hoop earrings.

Nikoline Nybo

BA Anthropology and Chaos Pilot.

Experience in cultural analysis and anthropological methodology, project management and process design, organizational development and facilitation.

Portrait of Louise Marie on a black background. She is facing the camera straight on and wearing a red v-neck jumpsuit.

Louise Marie Genefke

Cand. mag. Marketing & Communication, MA Management and External Lecturer AU.

Experience with management, talent and organizational development, facilitation and Employer Branding.