The New York Times recently published an article about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez where she took to the House floor to read into the Congressional Record a sexist vulgarity that Representative Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican, had used to refer to her. It was reported that Ms Ocasio-Cortez had several others who shared stories where they had also experienced situations of sexism and bullying behaviour.

While these types of stories come to our attention via the media when high-profile people are involved, let’s consider just how many stories like this are playing out within every country, every organisation, every community, and at home.

Let’s take a quick look at some examples of bullying and harassment

When it comes to sexual harassment and bullying behaviour, some of the most often presented examples are:

  • Offensive name-calling
  • Derogatory comments
  • Belittling remarks
  • Sarcasm with a sexist undertone
  • Intimidating body language
  • Showing little remorse for misconduct

It’s the type of behaviour that school teachers are right on top of in the classroom and that most children can understand and comply with. So why do we have so many examples of politicians, business leaders, and the general public who, as adults, display such poor behaviour?

Why do sexual harassment and bullying behaviour happen?

This is a topic of much attention and comes with many and varied opinions and emotional attachments.

Let’s consider sexual harassment and bullying behaviour, which we hear about in politics and business. First, think of a time when you or another person displayed misconduct, that is, sexual harassment or bullying. You will find that either yourself or the person or people involved who were doing the harassing or bullying fit into one of these categories.

Type 1 > The person or people were lacking confidence in their abilities

Yes, when we doubt our abilities and we see others who make it look easy, jealousy can often creep in. The fuel that with an ego that wants to be right and everyone else is wrong and you have a recipe for bullying, harassment and discrimination!

Type 2 > The person or people were feeling threatened, and the harassing and bullying behaviour was the armour they chose to wear.

Yes, when it comes to wearing armour and fighting in the boardroom and the public arena, certain types of people defend themselves by fighting. When fighting becomes harassment and bullying, we have a problem!

Type 3 > The person or people involved had an underlying lack of respect for the personal attributes of others (e.g. gender, age, religion, sexual preferences).

Yes, one might say this is the underlying reason for most of the bullying and harassment that we see in politics, in businesses and our society. It is the inability for us to respect other people for who they are and the viewpoints they may have.

Who is harassed, and who does the harassing?

Whilst most cases of sexual harassment, particularly those that we read about in the media, are stories of males sexually harassing females, sexual harassment is also prevalent:

  • Male to male
  • Female to female
  • Male to female
  • Female to male

What needs to be done to stop this from happening?

We all need to recognise that sexual harassment is a complex topic and one that we all need to stay open to different viewpoints about it. Being open to the topic does not mean accepting sexual harassment or behaviour that is sexist. It is about exploring each story and understanding what has happened and the reasons why. We can then take steps to remove harassment. The first step is for us all to display brave leadership and call out behaviour that is misconduct, such as discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying.

What does the law say about sexual harassment and bullying?

Most countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, have laws in place that outline what bullying, harassment and discrimination are. These laws hold businesses accountable for taking reasonable steps to train their people and have policies in place to set and maintain expectations for what is the code of conduct.

What steps can you take to educate yourself and others about sexual harassment and bullying?

Companies such as Sentrient partner with reputable law firms such as Mills Oakley Lawyers in Australia and Simpson Grierson Lawyers in New Zealand to provide some of the best quality online education for equal employment opportunity, sexual harassment and workplace bullying. They provide this training to their staff at induction and regularly thereafter. At the same time, they are assigning their organisational policies that further clarify what is appropriate conduct when it comes to anti-bullying, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment, and what steps to take if an individual experiences such behaviour in the workplace.

For more information, please visit the Sentrient website at