5 Subtle Ways Men Make Women Feel Uncomfortable In The Workplace

Many men in the workplace may not realize they exhibit subtle forms of sexual harassment toward women.

Last updated on May 19, 2024

Work place sexual harrassment Andrey_Popov | Shutterstock, Zephyr18, kenirwin | Canva

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 or a hostile work environment for the recipient. For example, unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, and innuendoes.

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Here are 5 subtle ways men make women feel uncomfortable 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 start work-related, but quickly become personal, and the recipient begins to feel uncomfortable.

Group of men have made her uncomfortable in her workplace Prostock-studio via Shutterstock


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.


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4. They look up and down or comment 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 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.

How were these behaviors ever acceptable?  Well, a couple of reasons. One is the prevalence of a toxic work environment that expects staffers to remain silent about inappropriate behavior.


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.

RELATED: What Happened When I Was Sexually Harassed At Work — And Actually Reported It

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 behaviors, 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 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 regarding sexual harassment, that can carry more weight.


5. Employees must commit to a harassment-free workplace

You and your co-workers must speak up during incidences of harassment, support others who 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.

She no longer feels uncomfortable in the workplace with her male coworkers Bogoljubb via Shutterstock

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Keith Dent is a writer, blogger, and certified empowerment coach. He is the author of In the Paint: How to Win at the Game of Love.