Charité’s strategies for prevention
Researchers from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin have been collecting data on sexual harassment in the clinical setting. Among both female and male physicians, verbal harassment was recorded as the most common type of workplace harassment. Results from this research have been published in JAMA Internal Medicine*. Thanks to its multiple strategies for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, Charité is now regarded as a national pioneer in combating sexual and other types of harassment, and the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency has lauded Charité’s efforts as an example of good practice**.
International studies suggest that health care workers are at an increased risk of suffering sexual harassment in the workplace. Until now, data on the incidence of harassment within the clinical setting in Germany had not been available. It was against this backdrop that researchers from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin worked alongside Charité’s Equal Opportunities Officer to devise and conduct the WPP (Watch, Protect, Prevent) Study. This study set out to use enhanced vigilance and a combination of protective and preventive measures to expose, reduce and even eliminate sexual harassment. The study, which was conducted between 2014 and 2016, comprised three distinct parts, one of which is reported in this current publication.
The results are based on a standardized anonymous survey conducted using an online questionnaire; a total of 743 Charité physicians completed the survey between May and July 2015. Respondents were asked about the types of harassment experienced throughout their careers, including before joining Charité. In addition to collecting information on perpetrator characteristics and consequences experienced, the survey also collected structural and organizational information. In total, 60% of the participants identified as female, 39% as male, and 1% as other.
According to the results, 70% of those surveyed had experienced some form of harassment during their careers, with harassment reported by approximately 76% of women and 62% of men. The most commonly reported type of harassment was verbal harassment, either in the form of degrading language (62% of respondents) or sexual innuendo (25%). Respondents also reported boundary violations through unwanted physical contact (17%), stories with sexual content (15%), and whistling or staring (13%). Other types of inappropriate conduct reported included sexual offers or unwanted invitations (7%), harassment in written form, or in the form of images or jokes (6%), and obscene gestures (5%). Victims of harassment reported other colleagues as the most common perpetrators of harassment. Female respondents highlighted senior male colleagues as playing a particularly prominent role in this regard.
“Charité’s Executive Board has zero tolerance towards all forms of sexual harassment and boundary violations – regardless of whether these occur inside the hospital, in an institute or seminar room, or within the administrative offices”, explains Charité’s Chief Executive Officer, Prof. Dr. Karl Max Einhäupl. “We are all called upon to intervene, whether as colleagues or as superiors, when faced with an incident of this kind. As Charité’s Executive Board, we see it as our duty to make available appropriate measures aimed at providing advice and support.”
Charité’s Decentralized Women's Affairs and Equal Opportunities Officer, Sabine Jenner, is one of the stakeholders of this study, and explains the relevance of the study’s findings as follows: “While the total number of incidents of harassment reported is high, and every single case is one case too many, these numbers did not come as a surprise. International research data suggest that, due to the specific nature of the medical work environment, sexual harassment represents a particular area of concern within the clinical setting. Here, people have characteristically close and trusting working relationships, and work in close contact with patients.” She adds: “It is therefore particularly important that we discuss this issue openly, and that we raise staff awareness of the measures we have put in place to protect everyone from sexual harassment at work.”
In 2016, Charité launched a wide range of preventive measures aimed at combating sexual harassment at work, and is the only university hospital in Germany to have adopted its own guidelines for preventing sexual harassment. Aside from confirming the Executive Board’s commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, these guidelines provide a binding framework with an explicit code of conduct for all members of staff.
Employees can also consult a legal advisor or use Charité’s whistleblowing policy to anonymously report suspected cases of sexual harassment. Details of the relevant advisory bodies, complaints procedures and guidelines are provided on the staff intranet homepage. There are also plans for an information campaign to highlight the WPP Study and communicate Charité’s preventive measures. This year, Charité’s primary focus shifted to the protection of its students. In addition to being involved in mapping out the specific challenges associated with their situation, students will help develop a specific program of preventive measures, as well as assisting in adapting existing ones.
*Jenner S, Djermester P, Prügl J, Kurmeyer C, Oertelt-Prigione S. Prevalence of Sexual Harassment in Academic Medicine. JAMA Intern Med. Published online October 03, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4859.
**Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency Guidelines entitled ‘Was tun bei sexueller Belästigung am Arbeitsplatz?‘ [What to do about Sexual Harassment at Work]
Decentralized Women's Affairs and Equal Opportunities Officer
Coordinator, Domestic and Sexualized Violence Intervention Project
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
t: +49 30 450 570 400
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