How MÄN is preventing sexual harassment for a better work life

Several studies indicate a lack of preventive measures against sexual harassment in workplaces. Therefore, since 2022, MÄN has been leading a project supported by the Swedish Equality Agency to counteract sexual harassment in workplaces. The project is nowtransitioning into the permanent initiative MVP Arbetsplats, with the broader goal of creating a better working environment for everyone.

Since the emergence of the #MeToo movement in Sweden in 2017, demands to combat sexual harassment have intensified politically, within companies in various industries, and among trade unions. Despite this, a high proportion of people still experience sexual harassment and a culture of silence in their workplaces.

– Today, we have a labor market that is risky and hazardous concerning our emotions and mental well-being. Sexual harassment, racism, discrimination, and ableism unfortunately remain everyday experiences for many employees, says Marco Vega, project manager for MVP Arbetsplats.

Many adults, especially men, spend much more time at workplaces and with colleagues than they do with family and friends. On average, men spend half an hour more per day on paid work than women, according to statistics from SCB. This makes a workplace that is safe for everyone a crucial part of life and well-being.

Even workplaces that do not perceive themselves as having problems with sexual harassment have every reason to work preventively, as it builds up protection against harassment in the future. Actively addressing these issues also has many other positive effects – a good working environment with responsible and secure employees, open and caring conversations, and reduced mental health issues.

Time-consuming to bring about change

Studies indicate several reasons why attitude changes have not led to changed behaviors in workplaces. Gender inequality, a lack of trust in immediate supervisors and management, perceptions that harassment does not exist or is not a serious issue, and misunderstandings from managers that harassment is something that is easy to handle are all reasons why the change process is slow. However, several participants in MÄN's work to prevent harassment believe they see results – even in themselves. Several feel they have become better at opening up and talking about emotions.

– I myself have become more confident speaking in front of people. I have also learned about various forms of violence, says one participant.

Norm-critique reduces risks

At the organization MÄN, we argue that harassment and sexual harassment are forms of violence and, like other forms of violence, can be prevented. Similar to the work preventing workplace accidents – such as detecting, highlighting, problematizing, and questioning learned norms and routines – it is possible to reduce the risk of harassment and discrimination in workplaces.

The work for change occurs on several levels.

  • Employees are trained to prevent situations that can lead to conflicts and harassment, but also to be equipped to act when unfair situations arise.

  • The workgroup engages in exercises to increase trust within it, especially in situations that involve the gray area between private and professional life. This can be when someone performs poorly at work, affecting colleagues, but the root cause is something challenging happening in their personal life.

  • At the organizational level, strategies and structures are needed to maintain a positive work culture where no one emotionally suffers. Just like in a physical workplace accident, it is essential to investigate and determine the necessary measures to avoid future harm in relationships at the workplace.

Another tool in the change process is Lilla rummet (The Little Room) method, which the organization MÄN also uses in other contexts. You can find all the rules for Lilla rummet conversations in the link above, if you want to learn more or try the method with your colleagues at your workplace.

"Has been very relieving"

The project is led by Marco Vega, along with Svante Tidholm, a method developer at MÄN. On the workplaces where they work, discussion leaders are appointed to ensure that the conversation stays alive.

– It has been very relieving to sit and ventilate with people I don't talk to daily, says one discussion leader.

– Doing this opened my eyes to how to act to improve and include in the workplace, says another.

MVP Arbetsplats started as a project funded by the Jämställdhetsmyndigheten (Swedish Equality Agency). Development and methods have been developed and will be disseminated to other companies and organizations in various industries. Shipping will be one industry that MÄN will continue working with in 2024.

By increasing knowledge about violence, gender, and bystander intervention and empowering staff and management to act before, during, or after a violent incident, many industries and workplaces can become better at preventing sexual and other harassment.