Gone are the days of accepting the In the Company of Men style wrongful acts of sexual harassment in the workplace. #MeToo has busted down the door of the misogynistic boy’s club that had abandoned women’s rights and safety for the luxury of feeding into the ego of “the man.” #MeToo has provided an ample, digital safe space where women (and men) can go to tell their stories of strength and come into their own power.
Not only has #MeToo given survivors a platform to speak their truth, but it has thrust the conversation about workplace sexual harassment and the issue of inequality to center stage. From CEOs to celebrities, the #MeToo movement has brought big companies–and big names–front and center for the world to see.
So, how can we be a part of the bigger conversation?
How can we, as HR professionals, navigate this delicate space? There are many ways to support your employees and protect your company while cultivating a culture of integrity that your people can be proud of.
Challenge your way of thinking
Fantasy: “that’s a shame, but that doesn’t happen here!”
Reality: 38% of women experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and 16% of sexual harassment claims in the workplace come from men. And yes, some of these claims come from work environments just like yours! How pull the wool from our eyes so that we can proactively create a safer and more inclusive workplace?
First thing’s first–step out of your own bias! Do an audit of your surroundings. Watch and observe as people move through spaces and think about the actions that are occurring around you. Imagine the workplace from every perspective, with a bigger lens focused on evaluating equality. Standing by and letting things happen is just as bad as conducting the acts yourself!
Next, take a crack at your company’s policies! Dust off the good ol’ employee handbook and start reading. When was the last time your organization’s sexual harassment policies were updated? Are these policies in place to prevent sexual misconduct or to merely avoid legal liability? Update your handbook to reflect prevention. Actively conduct new training on modernized policies. Focus on training that highlights gender impartiality! Stay in the know and remain proactive in setting the right example.
Build a culture of integrity
There is great power that awakens in the height of social activism. We have seen a rise in voices–and a rise in reports. When updating current policies, we also need to update the way we handle these reports.
Here are some stats to break it down for you:
- 1 in 5 women don’t report sexual harassment out of fear of retaliation
- 16% of those who did report it said going to a supervisor made their situation worse
- 75% of harassment victims experience retaliation after reporting it
- And 80% of those who did report it say their situation didn’t change
As we move forward we must make an effort to change the way sexual harassment is treated. We can no longer turn a blind eye and protect the predators in our workspaces, even if it’s out of our own fears of retaliation. It is time that we lead by example and spark the courage necessary to make a change– even if that means challenging your executive team to take a stand.
There are many resources out there in place to support employers when handling these situations. Take advantage of investigation training that will provide you and your team with the tools and insight needed to navigate these sensitive cases. There are national resource centers like Workplacerespond.org that offer resources, training, and technical assistance to employers navigating sexual harassment, violence, and stalking in the workplace.
If you see something, say something
So, we are changing the way we’re thinking, updating trainings and handbooks, and modernizing how we handle various victims’ cases. What else can we do to ensure we are making an impact? Make this a company-wide effort. We can’t be in all places at once. This is where teamwork and accountability really come into play!
Only 30% of employees feel comfortable reporting misconduct in the workplace. For the mathematically inept, that’s a whopping 70% that DO NOT feel comfortable speaking up! Nurture a culture where bystanders feel empowered to speak out about situations they see– bystanders play a key role in workplace harassment prevention. Creating a support system throughout the company to make sure it really is a safe space for all people to feel comfortable speaking up is vital.
As HR professionals, we are examples of what our companies stand for (and we just can’t stress this enough!).
By leading others with a modern mindset, we will send a cultural ripple that connects every part of the company! Yes, we have made strides. Yes, the #MeToo movement has assisted in removing 190 malevolent men (and seven women), addicted to power, off of their corporate thrones (think Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, etc.) We can be proud of the work we’ve done so far, but we still have a long way to go in the fight for equality in the workplace– women working full-time, year-round make 80% of what their male counterparts earned in 2018, but that’s for another blog.
According to the EEOC:
Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.