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Nordic conference on sexual harassment: “High time to go from me too to me neither” 

Participants at the Nordic conference Prevent and Intervene - Ending Sexual Harassment at Work.

Joint efforts, research and shared knowledge in the Nordic Region are needed to put an end to sexual harassment in the workplace. This was stated by the Norwegian Minister of Gender Equality and Culture, Lubna Jaffery, in her opening speech at the Nordic conference Prevent and Intervene – Ending Sexual Harassment at Work. ‘It’s an ambitious goal, but there is no alternative. It’s high time to move from me too to me neither’, she said.


Women are at greatest risk of experiencing sexual harassment. Factors such as age, ethnicity, education, functional variation and sexual identity also affect both exposure and the ability and opportunity for employees and employers to deal with what happens. Research from several studies in the Nordic countries shows that around one third of all women are exposed at some point during their working life.

‘We have had some large studies every few years and we do not see harassment go down. We use the word epidemic for this’, said Dagný Aradóttir Pind, lawyer at the Icelandic trade union BSRB, who took part in a dialogue on prevention with Joakim Aadland, director of Balansekunst in Norway, and Jeanine Førland, advisor in HR and personnel analysis at the Norwegian Police University College, moderated by Hannah Helseth.

The project Sexual Harassment in Tourism and Hospitality – using the past and present to inform the future emphasised the need for targeted and accessible knowledge about sexual harassment to ensure that training and information materials actually reach people. Both employees and managers in the Nordic tourism sector are often young. Many are also not native speakers of Nordic languages. 

Questions about behaviour reveal harassment

Joakim Aadland from the stakeholder organisation Balansekunst represented the cultural sector, where vulnerability is high because insecure employment and freelance assignments are so common. A study conducted by the organisation shows how answers are affected by how the questions are asked.

‘When we asked ‘have you ever been exposed to sexual harassment’, very few people said yes. When we asked specific questions about have you experienced this or that, the numbers went up. So that makes it even harder to work on this topic’, he said.

To obtain comparable data on sexual harassment in the Nordic region, the IWS-Nordic project has developed a standardised questionnaire based on questions about different behaviours. The Inventory of Workplace Sexual Harassment form is available on the project’s website in Danish and English, and soon in Norwegian and Swedish.

Workplace culture needs change

In the service and retail sector, the risk of exposure is high among those who interact with customers on a daily basis. The project Customer Sexual Harassments in the Nordic Service Workplace highlighted how the Nordic service culture can affect safety. Focusing on the customer and making the customer happy becomes a kind of overarching principle that affects the entire organisation, explained Markus Fellesson and Anna Fyrberg Yngfalk, both lecturers at the Centre for Service Research, Karlstad University.

‘Even in situations when arguably you shouldn´t provide any kind of service anymore you still do it, because that´s what you do if you´re doing your job in a proper way, Markus Fellesson said.

‘It´s essential to question the ideals and discourse and practices of service management because we see that this way of managing enables violence to unfold’, said Anna Fyrberg Yngfalk.

Several panel discussions and presentations discussed the gap between legal definitions and how sexual harassment is understood in practice, how grey zones are perceived, speaking “the same language” or even having a language to talk about the problem. To create a common understanding, regular training is needed. And often the workplace culture is the major challenge. 

‘When sexist harassment occurs in workplaces it is a sign that the workplace culture, hierarchies, organizational structures and work relations hold a every day sexist nature that enables sexual harassment, said Marta Padovan-Özdemir, Associate Professor at the Centre for Gender, Power and Diversity, Roskilde University, who presented the project Power Plays – preventing sexual harassment through memory work & forum theatre in workplaces of care.

Claus Jervell, secretary of the Norwegian Fellesforbundet, leads the union’s training programmes to change workplace cultures and engage bystanders, those who witness sexual harassment. These efforts have resulted in more people coming forward.

‘It´s not like most men harass women, but most men are passive bystanders in a culture where this is a part of the culture. Our work was to make passive bystanders active agents against harassment by giving them responsibility and tools. As a result we now have many cases of harassment coming in to the Union, both in our own organization and from the workplaces’, he said in a dialogue about translating research into practice, with Fredrik Bondestam, Director of the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research, University of Gothenburg.

Management’s responsibility to build trust

To achieve change, everyone in the workplace needs to be involved. This is also the aim of the project “Speak Up!” – a practice-oriented research project on the prevention of Sexual Harassment (SUSH) which focuses particularly on bystanders, and which now also has continued funding from Nordforsk. One conclusion of the project is that a bottom-up perspective is preferable in workplace training programmes.

‘With an imancipatory approach it was possible to capture employees interests, their ability and collective resources to generate effective solutions to preventing sexual harassment’, said Linda Lane, senior lecturer at the Department of Social Work, University of Gothenburg, who represented the Swedish part of the joint Nordic project.

Jeanine Førland addressed the responsibility of management to support employees’ dialogue on sexual harassment, create a learning work environment and build trust. 

‘For people to report what they´re experiencing they have to trust how you will carry them through it, and how you will conduct it in the rest of the organization as well’, she said.

The conference was summarised by Sirið Stenberg, Minister for Social Affairs and Culture of the Faroe Islands, and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland and Minister for Gender Equality gave the closing speech. 

 ‘We need training and dialogue and it´s crucial for implementing strategies and prevention. It´s up to us to break the silence and to create an environment where everyone feels protected’, said Sirid Stenberg.

‘Changing workplace culture attitudes and policies takes time and the fight against sexual harassment and violence continues. Sadly, we are not there yet’, said Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

Relaterade notiser

Nordic Conference on Sexual Harassment at Work

Photo: Carina Elmäng

On 30 October 2023, NIKK is organising a conference in Oslo based on the Nordic research initiative on sexual harassment at work. The projects present their results and together with industry, labour market representatives, decision-makers and researchers there will be discussions on preventive measures, current research and new findings in the Nordic region.

The Nordic conference Prevent and Intervene – Ending Sexual Harassment at Work, at Litteraturhuset in Oslo on 30 October, will follow up on the results of the five projects that have been granted funding in the Nordic research initiative on sexual harassment at work 2021-2023. 

‘The focus on preventive work and collaboration between different labour market actors is what makes this research initiative unique. It will therefore be very exciting, both to learn about the results of the projects and to listen to discussions and reflections on Nordic collaboration in the work against sexual harassment in working life’,  says Maja Lundqvist, coordinator of the conference. 

Violence, harassment and other forms of vulnerability in working life are major social challenges, with serious consequences for individuals and work organisations. At the same time, there are major knowledge gaps in terms of methods for preventing and preventing violence and harassment, protecting vulnerable people and acting proactively in work environments.  

This conference, held in English, will bring together policy makers, labour representatives and researchers to discuss challenges and solutions. In addition to reflections and conclusions from the five funded projects, Nordic dimensions of knowledge about sexual harassment will be discussed, as well as preconditions for developing and implementing new knowledge in the field. 

The research programme is an initiative of all the Nordic ministers for gender equality. It is a cross-sectoral Nordic collaboration between the sectors for gender equality, for culture and for working life and the Nordic Committee for Children and Young People. The initiative is administered by NIKK on behalf of the Nordic Council of Ministers. 

Researchers and practitioners in collaboration   awarded funding in Nordic research initiative

How can we increase the knowledge about the role of bystanders in different risk situations? Which tools are needed to to break the silencing of sexual harassment in workplaces of care, and to promote a workplace culture prone to actively prevent sexual harassment? How can researchers and working life actors contribute to prevention strategies for the tourism and hospitality sectors? These are issues that are highlighted in the research projects that have been granted funds in the research initiative by the Nordic Council of Ministers, with focus on sexual harassment in working life.

Working life in the Nordic countries has many similarities in terms of overall structures and regulations, but also in terms of usual practice and procedures. Yet we know little about the importance of these structures for understanding or preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a complex area that touches on many different areas of knowledge and fields of research. Research into violence, into sexual harassment, and into other forms of harassment in the workplace are some of the cornerstones that can provide a better picture of the problem, make it more likely that prevention will work, and assist in developing effective intervention methods. 

In light of this, the Nordic Council of Ministers decided to support a Nordic research initiative, with two Open Calls, in co-operation between several sectors within the Nordic collaboration. Sectors involved include gender equality, culture, working life and the Nordic Committee for Children and Young People.  

Granted research projects in Open Call 2 

Open Call 2 was aimed at researchers and practitioners who intend to initiate practice-based research activities in collaboration. This call focuses mainly on preventative measures and methods for intervention through industry studies and comparative studies of different industries. The proposals are to be developed in partnership between several Nordic countries. 

Applications that met the criteria was assessed by external academic reviewers. Decisions were made after consulting the cross-sectoral reference group appointed by the Nordic Council of Ministers in connection with this initiative. The following research projects have been granted funds in Open Call 2:  

NIKK is administering the research initiative and will also disseminate information about and knowledge from the projects that are awarded grants in the two Open Calls.

Read more about the research initiative and the two Open Calls here.

Updated 21 March 2022