Behind the Scenes of the “Respect At Work” Survey
Over the past few months, you may have seen our social media posts about the “Respect at Work” national survey on workplace harassment and violence that’s open to all Canadians. Today, we wanted you to meet the women behind the survey and hear their thoughts on the significance of this project and what has surprised them so far in the survey gathering process.
Interested in filling it out? Find the link here.
1. Could you briefly introduce yourself and this project?
This project builds on the thirty years of research on sexual harassment that has revealed the pervasive and insidious nature of this problem. This project is unique in that it takes a deep dive into the contexts of workers’ experiences to better understand, for example, the barriers and retaliation they face when reporting sexual harassment, the supports available to them, and the ways that workplaces respond. Of particular interest is an understanding of the experiences of workers who are at greater risk due to their social location (e.g., gender, race, age, etc.) and/or their employment status. This study gathers data on the experiences of workers across a wide array of jurisdictions across Canada, sectors, and industries, as well as the intersection of sexual harassment and violence with other forms of workplace harassment, discrimination, and violence.
Adriana: My name is Adriana and I am an organizational consultant, researcher, and educator/facilitator with expertise in workplace harassment and violence and organizational studies. My work allows me to combine these scholarly interests with my extensive professional experience in senior positions in the areas of learning and development within organizations in an array of sectors internationally.
Nicole: My name is Nicole and I’m a social anthropologist with a research background in intersectional feminist research on gender-based violence, human rights, and labor rights issues. I have also been involved in front-line support service provision and grassroots community organizing related to these issues for over 10 years.
2. What's your role in this project and what drew you to the Respect at Work project?
Adriana: As an Academic Research Associate with CREVAWC and a co-investigator on this project, I am fortunate to work on projects involving actionable research with the potential to create meaningful change in how workplaces prevent and respond to harassment and violence, and as a result, create safe, healthy, equitable, and productive workplaces.
Hélène: I’m a Research Assistant on the Respect at Work project. I was drawn to this work because my own graduate research focused on sexual trauma and was informed by feminist approaches to trauma.
Nicole: This project is an opportunity to apply my research and analysis skills to an amazing collaborative project that bridges the gaps between academia and the community. The work we’re doing for this project touches on issues that I am deeply committed to personally and professionally, so the opportunity to join the Respect at Work team as a research assistant was something that I couldn’t pass up.
3. Behind the scenes, what has been the most challenging part of preparing or managing the survey?
Nicole: In terms of preparing the survey, one challenge we faced was crafting a survey that would be able to capture the nuance and diversity of workers’ experiences while also not being so long that people wouldn’t be able to finish it.
Adriana: A major challenge faced was, as Nicole mentions, developing a survey that accurately captures the experiences of workers while being cognisant of its length. Research participants often do not label their experiences of harassment as such. Therefore, presenting them with a definition of harassment and asking if they have experienced this often yields lower prevalence rates. This is why we use behaviour-based questions. When participants read actual examples of harassment they realize "Yes, that happened to me". What's really great is that the survey is complemented with one-on-one interviews with workers and worker advocates. These interviews are helping us to more deeply understand the experiences of workers and how organizational practices, like anti-harassment policies, are actually being used (or not) on the ground. The interviews are also providing us with an understanding of the unique contexts of various industries. One area that I am finding particularly interesting is the reality for women who are experiencing sexual harassment in male-dominated workplaces.
4. Has anything surprised you during your work on this Respect at Work?
Hélène: We haven’t delved into the data analysis portion of the work yet, but based on what we’ve seen in survey responses and interviews, I’ve been amazed to see that many workers know exactly what changes they want to see in workplaces. For many of these workers, there’s no ambiguity or uncertainty about what workplaces should do to make conditions safer for their employees. It really makes you realize how important it is to just listen to the people who have directly experienced whatever it is you’re researching.
Nicole: Definitely the number of survey responses we received in the first six weeks that the survey was live and the very high number of workers that wanted to be interviewed. For me, it really highlights the urgent need for research like this to be conducted and how important it is for workers to have a platform for sharing their experiences in a way that is meaningful to them.
Adriana: Hèléne and Nicole point to important aspects of the survey that surprised us all. We were excited at the number of survey responses and people wanting to be interviewed and, at the same time, I was saddened at what this meant. So many people continue to be harassed at work and the impacts and costs are serious and long term. Workers want their voices to be heard and change to be made. We take that responsibility very seriously.
5. What is the ideal impact and actions that you hope the survey findings can eventually inspire?
Hélène: It would be great to see workplace and government harassment policies reflect the needs of employees. Hopefully, the survey findings can give a clearer idea of the kinds of policies and procedures that are helpful and help us identify those policies and procedures that are not.
Adriana: As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. The learnings gained from this study will help governments at all levels, employers and unions bring about significant changes in efforts to prevent and respond to harassment and violence at work and also the inequities that are at the root of these problems. We can only change what we know. Canada is at the forefront of legislative changes – at both the provincial and federal levels – to address workplace harassment and violence. Our project was made possible by funding from the Government of Canada to support significant changes to the Canada Labour Code to address harassment and violence in federal workplaces and which came into effect on January 1st, 2021. The success of this project is in large part also due to our collaboration with the Canadian Labour Congress whose network and ability to reach workers is enormous. Our hope for this project, among several already mentioned, is to bring about significant changes in how workplaces prevent and respond to harassment and violence and to ensure that no worker has to suffer silently.
6. Who should fill out this survey? What would you like to say to anyone who is on the fence about completing it?
Everyone is welcome to fill out the information. We have people participating across a wide array of jurisdictions across Canada, sectors, and industries. Even if someone has not experienced or observed harassment or violence at work, their participation is still important. We can still learn much about, for example, what organizations are doing to address harassment and violence.
For anyone on the fence about completing the survey, I would say that until we are all safe at work, none of us really are. And very importantly, be part of the change that you would like to see happen. Help us to make workplaces safe, healthy, and equitable for everyone.
7. When is the last day that people can fill out the survey?
The survey closes on April 21, 2021.
8. When should people look out for an update on the results of the survey?
We are aiming to have the results available in June 2021. This project also has a qualitative component to it consisting of interviews with workers who have experienced and/or observed harassment and/or violence and advocates/representatives from organizations working with workers with regard to harassment and violence. These interviews provide us with really rich data on the everyday experiences of workers and the realities on the ground of what it is like to experience harassment and violence. They also provide context to understand the survey data better. For example, the survey may show that organizations have polices, but workers are saying that they are “handed the policy” and told to sign it and hand it back, without having had an adequate explanation of the policy or time to read it. Being able to make these kinds of connections and identify gaps
between the existence of policies and how they are actually applied in practice is incredibly important if we are to create real change.