5 Subtle Ways Men Make Women Feel Uncomfortable In The Workplace

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woman experiencing sexual harassment at work

Most men in the workplace may not realize that they exhibiting subtle forms of sexual harassment toward women they work with. 

In fact, last Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo uttered these words in his press conference speech"I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let the government get back to governing and therefore, that’s what I will do because I work for you and doing the right thing is doing the right thing for you." 

He obviously wasn’t talking about the 11 women he had violated over the past seven years because, until that moment, he felt that he did nothing wrong.

RELATED: Gov. Cuomo — Like All Men — Shouldn’t Need Daughters To Feel Bad About Abusing Women

"Sexual assault" is actually broader and more comprehensive than the ways in which we use the term in common conversation.

Sexual assault is a crime defined not only by the action of the perpetrator but also by the wounds of the victim — psychological as well as physical.

So, I can understand a little of what Governor Cuomo said when he thought "He was just being nice," because he felt he was, but his sexual proclivities were, in fact subtle.

So what is subtle sexual harassment?

According to the United Nations definition, it's a behavior but not a legal term. It's unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that if allowed to continue could create a quid pro quo and/or a hostile work environment for the recipient.

For example, unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, and innuendoes.

Here are 5 subtle forms of sexual harassment from men in the workplace. 

1. Texts and private messages become personal.

This can often become cloudy especially in the new digital environment.

A text exchange can originally start out work-related, but quickly become personal in nature and the recipient begins to feel uncomfortable.

2. "Accidental" touching.

This is when a person uses their body to block a colleague's path, ends up sitting too close to you in a meeting, or inconspicuously puts a hand on your shoulder or waist.

In the report of Governor Cuomo’s case with Lindsey Boylan, he would touch her on various parts of her body like her waist, leg, and back during their interactions together.

3. They ask personal questions.

When you spend the majority of your time at work, you tend to want to get to know your coworkers. But, when questions are too personal it creates an environment that can feel "creepy," weird, and uncomfortable. 

This was the case when Governor Cuomo asked several staffers about their relationship status or asked about a woman’s tattoo placement on her body.

4. They look up and down or makes comments about a co-worker's clothing, body, or looks.

When Governor Cuomo stared at the loose shirt of Alyssa McGrath and commented about liking her necklace when it was inside her shirt, he was actually insinuating something about her body and how she looked.

5. They cross boundaries. 

This includes invading a person’s personal space, lingering for longer than necessary, or following a person at work.

RELATED: The Actual Definitions Of Sexual Assault & Harassment (For People Who Think The Rules Have Changed)

With so many people working in New York State and the governor holding the highest-profile position, how were these behaviors acceptable?

Well, a couple of reasons. One, the prevalence of a toxic work environment that expected staffers to remain silent to the inappropriate behavior.

The investigative report done by Letitia James of the State Attorney General’s office concluded that one filled with fear and intimidation — while at the same time normalizing the Governor’s frequent flirtations and gender-based comments — contributed to the conditions that allowed the sexual harassment to occur and persist.

That culture also influenced the improper and inadequate ways in which the Executive Chamber has responded to allegations of harassment.

Another is a lack of understanding of the nuances of sexual harassment. Most people understand quid pro quo sexual harassment whereby a person performs sexual favors to keep their job.

In Governor Cuomo’s case, he stated what he thought was a hug and putting his arm around a staffer was simply friendly, but it turned out to be forward. And that calling someone "honey" or "sweetheart" was endearing while it's actually offensive.

In his speech, he never used the word sexual harassment, but words like improper conduct, and insensitive and off-putting behavior, which indicates he felt his actions weren’t harassment because they were too subtle.

Indeed they were, and it occurs more often than you think.

So how do you curb the subtle forms of sexual harassment and similar types of behavior in the workplace?

1. Sexual harassment training must be a priority.

Staff needs to be educated and informed about these types of behaviors in the workplace.

Strong language should be used to reiterate that this type of behavior is unacceptable.

2. Employees must understand what is and isn’t considered sexual harassment.

This is because sexual harassment can include a wide range of behavior, especially the subtle forms of sexual harassment.

On the flip side, you also don’t want someone to be falsely accused of sexual harassment when the behavior is really something else.

False accusations can ruin a person’s reputation in the workplace.

3. Make sure your sexual harassment training is positive.

Research suggests that it’s better to keep this type of training positive and it does more to create a positive culture than the alternative.

4. The less legal language, the better.

Folks tend to tune out when these types of training are heavy on legalities.

If you can stress your company's values, policies, and culture in regards to sexual harassment, that can carry more weight.

5. Employees must commit to a harassment-free workplace.

It's imperative that you and your co-workers speak up during incidences of harassment, support others that have possibly experienced harassment, and encourage a formal reporting system without fear of retaliation.

This transparency is the only way to avoid a toxic work environment.

In the end, if measures like these would’ve been in place at the Statehouse in Albany, would it have made a difference? Maybe!

If nothing else, Governor Andrew Cuomo would’ve clearly known and acknowledged his actions were sexual harassment and would’ve properly apologized for the type of behavior he inflicted on those 11 women.

RELATED: I Was Targeted By A Sexual Predator — And Didn't Even Know It

Keith Dent is a certified empowerment coach by The Institute for Professional Empowerment Coaching (IPEC). He has 10 years’ experience and is the author of In the Paint: How to Win at the Game of Love. Contact Coach Keith for a free consultation.