The Current State of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Sexual harassment can come in the form of “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature [that] explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment” (EEOC, n.d., para. 2). Sexual assault and sexual harassment are increasingly brought to the public’s attention as news stories break about high-profile, repeat offenders. These high-profile offenders span many industries—from healthcare to entertainment—and the allegations against only a select few suggest that there is likely a much larger population of individuals who mistreat fellow employees. In fact, 27% of women and 10% of men report experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace—yet 84 to 97% of these individuals do not file a formal complaint (EEOC, 2016; Lee, 2017). Why? Well, this may be because 75% who have filed a complaint reported facing retaliation for that choice from their employers. In this blog article, I hope to inspire you to reexamine your workplace policies regarding this intolerable behavior, and suggest ways in which you can begin conducting more impactful sexual harassment trainings in the workplace.
A survey conducted by the EEOC revealed that there was no evidence from the past three decades to suggest that sexual harassment trainings reduce workplace harassment (Quick & McFadyen, 2017). This might be due to a number of factors, which we hope to address in our training guide.
Conduct Relevant Sexual Harassment Trainings Online
Utilize a learning management system to build and deliver interactive trainings. The most effective online sexual harassment trainings are interactive, specifically tailored to the type of workplace, and a minimum of 4 hours in length (Miller, 2017). For example, a sexual harassment training for a pediatrics office should not be the same as a sexual harassment training for a real estate banking firm. These workplaces have very different cultures, and sexual harassment may present itself and be handled very differently within these varied contexts. Why conduct sexual harassment trainings online? In short, online trainings are less costly than in-person trainings and provide an easy-to-use platform to store and analyze employee learning outcomes. Outcome data can help your organization determine gaps in employees’ knowledge base, helping to revise trainings and improve them for future purposes.
- Make your sexual harassment training less technical and more personal.
- It is easy for employees to disregard a training as a waste of time when the information is presented using technical, legal terms. For example, the term harasser may alienate men who equate masculinity with power. In fact, Rawski (2016) explained that sexual harassment training is least effective with these individuals who would be unlikely to identify with the harasser label.
- Your sexual harassment training should teach employees specific policies and sexual harassment reporting procedures within your organization. Information should be presented to employees in a way that clearly reinforces your workplace’s values and mission—as an environment that does not tolerate discrimination in any way, shape, or form. Do not reinforce stereotypes of women as vulnerable and men as powerful when sharing these procedures with employees. Rather, provide examples of unacceptable behavior done to both men and women and demonstrate the steps individuals should take within your organization to stop mistreatment. By combatting these stereotypes, women and men can feel more empowered to act against sexual harassment (Miller, 2017).
- Include video messages from supervisors and top management (e.g., the CEO) that reflect a united front and strong sentiments against sexual harassment in your workplace. These video messages will empower employees to stand up against sexual harassment with reduced fear of retaliation by employers.
- Empower the Bystander.
- Sexual harassment trainings should not only address the harasser and the victim roles. Trainings should also highlight what to do if you are a bystander (Miller, 2017). Studies suggest that giving sexual harassment trainings specific to bystanders would improve the likelihood of them taking action when viewing sexual misconduct.
- Research suggests that bystanders can help combat sexual harassment by (a) disrupting the sexual misconduct by creating a loud noise and removing the victim from the situation, (b) talking openly with colleagues about inappropriate behavior that you’ve witnessed, (c) confronting the harasser at a later time about how his/her actions might be negatively perceived, and (d) checking in with the victim after the occurrence—and seeing if he/she would like assistance in reporting the occurrence to the human resources department (Miller, 2017).
- Effectively teach the bystander strategies using videos and introduce role-play scenarios with targeted questions.
- Create a culture that encourages reporting of sexual harassment.
- Miller (2017) stated that rewarding managers for an initial uptick in received sexual harassment complaints can be beneficial in decreasing the fear of retaliation among victims.
- It may be beneficial to give victims the option to timestamp their complaint and only have it go on file if another worker also steps forward with a complaint against that same harasser (Ayres, 2012). This gives victims more agency in regard to the impact of filing a complaint, and may empower more individuals to step forward as they would not be blamed as the sole reason for a person’s firing.
Ayres, I. (2012). Information escrows (Faculty Scholarship Paper No. 4741). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/fss_papers/4741/
EEOC. (n.d.). Facts about sexual harassment. Retrieved from https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm
EEOC. (2016). The 2018 guide to workplace sexual harassment [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://i-sight.com/resources/2018-guide-to-workplace-sexual-harassment-infographic/
Lee, H. (2017, December 19). One-fifth of American adults have experienced sexual harassment at work, CNBC survey says. CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com
Miller, C. C. (2017, December 11). Sexual harassment training doesn’t work. But some things do. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com
Quick, J. C., & McFadyen, M. A., (2017). Sexual harassment: Have we made any progress? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22, 286-298. doi: 10.1037/ocp0000054
Rawski, S. L. (2016). Understanding employees’ reactions to sexual harassment training: Interactional disruptions, identity threats, and negative training outcomes (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://scholarworks.uark.edu/etd/