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Tackling workplace sexual harassment 




In Sweden, there was no reliable measure of sexual harassment within the workplace.  This meant that employees, employers, policy makers and trade unions had little concept of the potential extent of the problem, nor a clear view of how issues could, or should, be addressed.   

The challenge our Verian team in Sweden faced was that there was no existing and reliable way to measure the frequency of sexual harassment at work.  In addition, there were no proven and effective methods to prevent and counteract all types of harassment. Finally, there was a lack of data to accompany the voices of women who may have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, which is crucial for any meaningful action and follow-up.  

To address this issue, we worked together with our partners in academia and invited employer organisations and trade unions to collaborate to collect a robust set of data and insights to provide a more comprehensive understanding around the extent and impact of sexual harassment in the Swedish labour market.

The aim: a more inclusive and sustainable working life for everyone.  

We conducted 12,000 online interviews on the topic, all respondents were aged 18 years or over and the questions were a mix of closed and open ended to allow for both quantitative and qualitative insights.  

This was important as we knew that a straight, binary question would not necessarily give the complete picture of sexual harassment. This is due to the way people personally define harassment and not perceiving certain incidents as harassment, despite it being stated as such by law. We wanted to understand all types of harassment and to explore if men and women in different industries defined these behaviours in the same way. In parallel, desk research was conducted regarding published research studies on prevention and counteraction of harassment. 

A key finding from the research showed a culture of silence. One out of two victims of sexual harassment will not tell anyone about it. One out of five inform their manager or their Human Resource manager. The most common reason why people avoid informing anyone is that they ‘didn’t think it was that bad’. 

The study highlighted who is more likely to become a victim of sexual harassment, where the exposure happens, in what context and by whom, the levels of the culture of silence and finally what kind of attitudes there are towards unwelcome behaviour.  

Our study provided the evidence for our clients and partners to fully grasp the extent of the problem and to compare across industry sectors.  

The research also helped clarify whether the labour market was acting in accordance with Swedish law (The Work Environment Act). 

A very positive finding was that both female and male employers had very similar attitudes to the specific unwanted behaviours described and will have zero tolerance against any form of harassment in the workplace.   

"Although our knowledge on sexual harassment has increased, we need to understand more about when, where, and how they take place in order to seriously prevent people from being exposed. There are great similarities, but also great differences in patterns. The conditions differ widely between different parts of the labour market, as does the risk of being exposed to harassment and abusive behaviour. For LO, this collaboration means great opportunities to develop our union strategies and make a difference."  

A quote from LO - a unifying force for 14 trade unions linked to the labour movement in Sweden, with approximately 1,450,000 members. 


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