How to erase sexual harassment – feedback from Finnish Academia

Docent Eija Tuominen participated in the conference “Equality in Higher Eduction” held in Dublin August 2018 .  She presented the first results of our survey concerning sexual harassment in the Finnish Academia. The interest for Eija’s paper was huge. We will continue to work with the data collected and publish results in future. Here you can read the abstract of Eija’s presentation:

Active participation of women in society, economy and academia has a long history in Finland. However, the #metoo movement has raised the question what kind of role the experiences of sexual harassment play in different professions. In Finland, sexual harassment has been discussed, e.g., in connection to movie, TV, film industry, and theatre. The Helsinki Association of Women Researchers was aware of many cases of sexual harassment in Finnish Academia but there was no information about the frequency or kind of the phenomenon. Therefore, we decided to make an inquiry.

We opened a questionnaire on sexual harassment in our webpage. Information about the survey was distributed e.g. through internal web portals of universities and mailing lists. As a result, just few weeks after the launch of the questionnaire in March 2018, totally 437 researchers, other staff and students (female 79%, male 18% and other 3%) responded the inquiry. The majority of the entries came from the four universities in the Helsinki metropolitan area and about 15% from other parts of the country. Despite limitations, this study gives direct insight into the previously unstudied frequency and nature of sexual harassment in Finnish Academia.

Our inquiry gave new information about various aspects of sexual harassment. The responses revealed to what extent there is sexual harassment in the academia; the difficulty of defining what sexual harassment is and how to detect or recognize the ”border” cases; how seldom people reported their experiences; and the negative responses people encountered when they reported.

Our findings are in line with previous studies done in other academic environments (Cortina, 1998; Fitzgerald, 1988; Roosmalen, 1999; Shrier, 1996). Sexual harassment is recognized as form of aggressive behaviour with severe consequences for victims and organizations (Page, 2015; Page, 2016). Most harassing behaviours extend from men towards women (Volkwein-Caplan, 2002). Harassment is related to power (Cleveland, 1993). Victims are typically younger than non-victims are, and harassment is common but official reporting is rare (Mellgren, 2017). The concept of sexual harassment is not always clear (Rotundo, 2001). Victims often feel shame (McDonald, 2012; Poulson, 2000).

In our analysis, we seek to find out what reasons lie behind the wide phenomenon that people did not report of their experiences. Preliminary reasons seem to be feelings of shame and confusion, lack of trust in organizational processes, and lack of information. The perception that the own supervisor is irreplaceable seems to play a significant role as well.
Finally, based on the results, we point out critical areas and practices, which should be taken into account in order to prevent sexual harassment in future: Academia can fight sexual harassment by discussing it openly and by inventing methods to immediately identify and react to harassment. Low threshold reporting channels are important. In general, continuous and active information dissemination and prevention of misconduct seem to be the key to erasing sexual harassment. We are encouraged by the fact that there are previous experiences how sexual harassment policies have changed workplace behaviors and norms (Antecol, 2003; Tinkler, 2008).


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