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There's Still Harassment In the Workplace, Despite the #MeToo Movement

Written by Mohammad Abdullah Kawish

"If you've been sexually harassed or attacked, write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet," actor Alyssa Milano tweeted in October 2017.

The post quickly went viral and women across the world began using the hashtag #MeToo to share their traumatic stories of sexual harassment and assault. The movement, first started by Tarana Burke in 2006, then grew in popularity and became a rallying cry against sexual misbehavior and rape culture. And though this movement brought a major shift in global perception and culture, recently conducted data suggest that sexual harassment is still prevalent in the workplace five years later. According to a recent poll conducted by The Shift Work Shop, a New York City-based HR consulting organization, 53% of roughly 1,700 respondents experienced sexual harassment in the previous 12 months.

Founder Amanda Rue states that “despite ongoing media attention and increased mandates for training, overall, there is a systemic problem that needs transformational change to create meaningful and lasting impact.” Unwanted sexual approaches were the most often mentioned sort of harassment (46 percent of those who had been harassed). The poll revealed that over 36% of respondents experienced demands for sexual favors, demonstrating "misplaced and inappropriate sexual desire inside the workplace." According to Rue, remote workers were more likely than onsite employees to have encountered sexual harassment in the previous 12 months (56 percent vs. 50 percent). They were frequently subjected to harassment via e-mail and internal chat applications. "We believe this is due to a variety of factors, including gaps in training and a lack of consequences for sexual harassment via digital platforms," Rue explained.

While sexual harassment remains an issue in today's workplace, a recent Pew Research Center survey shows most Americans feel businesses are far less tolerant of harassment and abuse and more supportive of individuals who report such incidences compared to five years ago. Among the approximately 6,000 workers surveyed:

  • 67% believe that workplace harassers and abusers are more likely to face consequences now compared to 2017.

  • 62% feel accusers are more likely to be believed now than they were before the movement's emergence.

  • Approximately half of those who had heard of the #MeToo movement supported it.

  • The #MeToo movement was opposed by 21% of the population.

Respondents were also more inclined to suspect that victims of sexual harassment or assault are far more likely to not disclose the transgression rather than to lie about harassment or abuse in the workplace. Unaffiliated with the study, Cathy Tinsley, academic director for the Executive Master's degree in Leadership program at Georgetown University, praises the #MeToo movement as it helped raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. "I think the viral nature of the movement has contributed to an overall broader societal trend towards increased awareness of diverse perspectives and an acceptance that there could be systemic discrimination," Tinsley suggests.

Additionally, “Sexual Harassment in Our Nation’s Workplaces” research conducted by suggest alarming statistics, stating that only 25% of men reported sexual harassment to management vs 38% of women. What’s even more troubling is that after speaking up or filing a claim, 55% of victims reported they faced retribution. The survey also states that 7 out of 10 disabled women have experienced workplace sexual harassment, with one in every three working females being under the age of thirty-five. The report also indicates that female victims of sexual harassment continue to experience the same heinous treatment although they work from home. As more workplaces expand remote work, 45 percent of women report cyber-harassment via Zoom, social media, texts, and emails. More frightening is that approximately 36% of organizations still do not provide sexual harassment training to their employees.

These are daunting statistics. Companies need to keep in mind that they must create a safer workplace for their employees. Here are a few key ways to help turn your company in the right direction:

  • Be a role model of respect and humanity. Do not shut off an employee with a scathing remark at a meeting. If someone says anything ambiguous, ask for clarification.

  • Create a culture of reporting grievances to human resources. Make it clear to managers and directors that they must report harassment, retaliation, wage and hour claims, and charges of waste and abuse to HR. Once a complaint is submitted, the firm can evaluate what went wrong and, if required, rectify the issue.

  • Respond to harassing and objectionable behavior proactively, even in the absence of a complaint. Inform your colleagues about their rights as bystanders. A leader must speak out when an employee or contractor says something inappropriate. So, if a coworker says to another at a meeting, "You look hot today," any manager present needs to call the employee out for expressing something improper and contrary to the ethos of the firm.

  • Collaborate with HR to correct undesirable behavior. Human resources are not responsible for sole ownership of courteous and civil behavior. Leaders must collaborate with HR and remember that there is no "rock-star defense" for immoral behavior by their star performers. If a violating employee protests to discipline by claiming, "But I bring a lot of money into the business," keep in mind that regulations cannot be broken. People over profit.

  • Do not engage in retaliatory behavior. Employers cannot allow retaliatory behavior in response to a harassment claim. Employee Latisha makes a sexual harassment complaint against another employee, George. While they do continue to get along, for the most part, George however, no longer acknowledges Latisha in meetings and ignores her work calls. This may not be considered criminal retribution, but it does create a poisonous culture. Employers must foster environments in which employees are not hesitant to speak up for fear of cultural backlash.

  • Avoid meddling with investigations. During investigations, leaders may try to tell witnesses what to say. Obstructing an employer inquiry is a different wrong form of retribution that must be avoided if a culture of respect is to be established.

  • Encourage inclusivity. Promoting inclusion entails more than simply creating a courteous and respectful atmosphere in which everyone may achieve their full potential. It also entails ensuring that leaders do not fall to unconscious prejudice, either by being drawn to individuals who are like themselves or avoiding those who are different.

With all of the attention, you would think that we’d made some serious strides towards eliminating workplace sexual harassment. It seems we have a long way to go.

What are some ways your employer works to fight harassment in the workplace? Let us know in the comments.

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