In light of the multitude of recent reports regarding sexual harassment, we need more than conversations on the topic. We need actions that can eradicate comments and activities of this nature from the workplace. With so many of these scandals in the news, we know the problem is pervasive and transcends industry, age, race, religion, geography, and economic class . Recently there has been a reaction on Twitter regarding these events with the #metoo movement. Many individuals had the courage to share their personal experiences of sexual abuse, harassment, and impropriety, which has encouraged others to follow suit in coming forward. Now we need to turn talk into action to make the workplace a safe environment where everyone can bring their “best selves” to work.
According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) sexual harrassment generally “describes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” but it is not limited to that. It is also a pattern of improper belittling tones, sexist comments, subtle actions, or a hostile, sexualized work environment. Part of this definition comes from a recent article, which also includes the following tips for victims.
For the individual dealing with sexual harassment in a work environment:
In the wake of much criticism of the women coming forward– “why now?” and ” how can she prove it?”– we need more conversation about why it’s so hard for victims to come forward. Many victims fear career suicide; they cannot afford losing their jobs or the retaliation that they may receive while fighting for their rights. According to Kathy Caprino, CEO of Fairygoddess, on top of retaliation, there is also the bystander effect (meaning others were watching and did not take action therefore the victim does not feel that their experience will be heard) as well as the influence and pressure of a male-dominated culture.
Here are a few tips for the individual who is the target of sexual harassment:
1. Record every incident (even if the actions on their own seem small and seemingly unimportant) and all the details of who was involved, when and what occurred. Make sure to write them down in a non-work device, so that you will have them in case you are let go without warning.
2. Follow your company’s formal complaint channel, butact quickly. Many lawyers say that victims wait too long to come forward and their cases become time-barred.
3. The complaint channel activates “the company’s legal obligation to do a prompt, thorough investigation, make findings, protect the victim and punish the perpetrator. If that does not solve the problem and there’s more sexual harassment and if there is retaliation, which is illegal, then she [or he] needs to reach out to a lawyer,” says Caprino. Most lawyers provide a free initial (confidential) consultation that will inform the victim of their rights.
For the bystander:
“Everyone knew. But no one said anything,” is how John Baldoni, an executive coach and educator, began his article on the subject, which seems to be a theme in most workplaces. According to Baldoni “silence equals complicity” because in most cases the harasser is not the only one aware of what is occurring. This is not simply a corporate level issue; individuals also have responsibility in these situations. Baldoni explains how currently there are few prevention answers. Either the victim can complain to HR (where the complaint will most likely never be addressed) or they can talk and engage in conversations about it, but neither of these actions are a sufficient response. Neither of them affect any kind of change. So Baldoni shares helpful tips for the individual seeking change.
1. Hold each other accountable as individuals to stand up and protect one another.
2. Believe the victim and take the complaints seriously, whether you have the power to do anything about it or not according to this article about how to navigate sexual harassment in the work place.
3. Don’t engage in sexist jokes. Draw the line; show your coworkers you don’t put up with those ideals and attitudes.
For companies that want to be better about sexual harassment policies:
Victor Lipman, executive coach and author, wrote in an article saying that “companies should be preventers, not enablers” of these kinds of behaviors. While there are many discussions regarding whether or not non-disclosure agreements regarding this topic should be legal, there are actions that companies need to take to mitigate the problem.
1. Make a policy regarding the issue and publish it for all employees to see. Baldoni says to make it as clear as possible during new hire training so that they know without a doubt what the policy is.
2. Make it a zero-tolerance policy. One-strike, you’re out.
3. For the HR department and management, do more than simply create a new policy in a rule book. Discuss these policies so employees know that they carry weight.
4. While anti-retaliation policies are illegal, ensure that everyone at your company explicitly knows this.
5. Remove mandatory employee arbitration clauses (they are illegal and forbid lawsuits) but they also silence victims and they protect sexual offenders.
In order for the culture to change, adjustments have to be made on every level of a company from every policy that is made to every employee’s actions to the CEO’s actions and opinions to a company’s newest hire. While there are many different ways to accomplish this, Dana Walden, chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group, said that “There must be women in the highest ranks on every corporate board. Our recruiting and our training has to be oriented to ensure that we’re identifying and nurturing future generations of female leaders.”