Over the past month, the subject of sexual harassment has become a leading topic of conversation across America. Around dinner tables, water coolers, and social media profiles, people gather to discuss the latest high-profile scandal, what it means to them personally and to the nation as a whole.
Hollywood. The news media. High profile restaurants. Even Capitol Hill isn't immune from recent allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct.
This very week, the U.S. Congress is considering new legislation that would simplify the reporting of inappropriate sexual behavior within the Senate and the House of Representatives and that would also make sexual harassment training mandatory for all legislators and their staffs.
Not all forms of harassment are direct and overt. Read: Does Your Harassment Training Cover These 5 Areas?
As troubling as this stream of revelations is, it becomes more so when you realize that these women are not alone. In 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handled more than 6,700 sexual harassment claims and resolved more than 7,400 total cases.
However, these figures only represent reported incidents, and a meta-analysis of sexual harassment studies that was conducted in 2008 suggests that less than 25 percent of victims ever report their harassment either formally or informally. These results appear remarkably similar to a survey that the Huffington Post conducted just last year, which found that only 30 percent of victims responding to the survey ever reported their harassment.
Sure, as an individual, each of us can make the choice not to harass our coworkers -- or anyone for that matter. But is that enough? Is there more that we can do?
To quote the EEOC: "Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated."
If your business doesn't already have clearly defined policies regarding sexual harassment, draft some. And once these guidelines are in place, enforce them consistently.
Provide employees with regular training that not only familiarizes them with appropriate behavior guidelines -- and the consequences of violating these rules -- but that also equips them with the tools to identify and respond to inappropriate conversations, sexual conduct, or harassment when it occurs in the workplace.
Executive participation and leadership is also crucial in creating a healthy office culture. After all, when the executive board makes it clear that preventing sexual harassment is one of their priorities, the rest of the business will quickly follow.
Far too often, businesses only briefly mention "harassment" when it is time to review the annual or bi-annual compliance training, but these conversations need to happen much more frequently.
Managers should regularly discuss appropriate and inappropriate workplace conduct in team meetings, and employee behavior should be factored into performance reviews and hiring discussions.
Not only do you need to encourage your staff to speak up if they are the victim of or witness to sexual misconduct, but you need to provide them with clear reporting mechanisms to capture these complaints.
And whenever possible, make these reporting tools anonymous. In the previously mentioned meta-analysis, "fear" -- whether of blame, humiliation, or reprisal -- was the most frequently cited reason for why victims chose to remain silent. But when workers can report an issue without any concern of potential retaliation or reprisal, your business can identify and address a problem employee or situation much more quickly.
As great as this current national discussion surrounding sexual harassment is, it will be meaningless if nothing changes. This kind of inappropriate behavior has no place in a professional office, and your organization needs to take whatever steps are necessary to protect its employees, customers, and reputation.
To learn more about how we can help create a safer, more welcoming environment for your workforce, request a demo of our harassment and discrimination prevention courses.