The #MeToo movement has gone through different stages. Already back in 2006, it was kickstarted on Myspace by sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke. However, it gained worldwide traction after the exposure of the sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Widespread media coverage led to high-profile firings as well as criticism and backlash, particularly in Hollywood. Nevertheless, thousands of stories largely shared by women have made it clear that sexual harassment is an issue in every industry.
The Center for American Progress divided sexual harassment charges from 2005-2015 by industry. The accommodation and food services industry, which includes restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, and other hospitality establishments, accounted for 14.2 percent of sexual harassment claims filed to the EEOC from 2005 to 2015. The retail industry accounted for an additional 13.4 percent of claims.
If that’s not enough, sexual harassment cases go largely unreported. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016 found that 6 to 13% of individuals who experience harassment file a formal complaint. This means that 87 to 94% of individuals choose not the report the issue. The same goes for European countries, according to the report ‘Violence against women: an EU-wide survey‘ by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.
Due to the overwhelming underreported cases of workplace sexual harassment, companies must be part of a cultural change to make it safer for employees to come forward. But where do you start?
INSTITUTIONAL BETRAYAL HAS TO BE MET WITH COURAGE
In 2014, Jennifer Freyd, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, coined two concepts, institutional betrayal, and institutional courage.
Institutional betrayal refers to the “wrongdoings perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution, including failure to prevent or to respond supportively to wrongdoings by individuals committed within the context of the institution”. Employees that report sexual harassment and are met with inaction are the victims of institutional betrayal. The good news is that Freyd also gives us the answer: institutional courage.
Institutional courage is meant to tackle institutional betrayal and it relies on accountability and transparency. It focuses on the anonymous collection of data, as well as the analysis of that data to develop new solutions.
There are 10 steps institutions can take to promote institutional courage to address workplace sexual harassment:
- Comply with criminal laws and civil rights codes, and go beyond minimal standards of compliance.
- Respond sensitively to victim disclosures and avoid victim-blaming responses.
- Be accountable for mistakes and apologize when appropriate.
- Cherish and encourage whistleblowing.
- Monitor your organization regularly to ensure that you are not promoting institutional betrayal.
- Conduct anonymous surveys to get meaningful insights and talk openly about the findings.
- Make sure leadership is educated about research on sexual violence and related trauma.
- Be transparent about data, processes, and policies regarding workplace sexual harassment.
- Use the power of your company to address the societal problem, e.g. if you’re in the entertainment industry, make films that inform the public about sexual violence.
- Commit resources to steps 1 through 9. Ensure that there is staff, money, and time dedicated to address sexual harassment and change the culture.
YOU CAN’T CHANGE WHAT YOU DON’T MEASURE
When an employee files a sexual harassment complaint, you have a legal, ethical, moral, and employee relations obligation to investigate the charges thoroughly and without delay. However, since sexual harassment goes largely unreported, the lack of complaints does not indicate a healthy and safe work environment.
MEASURE SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN YOUR WORKPLACE ACCURATELY
In recent years, more and more companies have opted for measuring sexual harassment in the workplace, which is great! Nevertheless, your methodology needs to be spot on or you risk not getting an accurate picture. Research shows that if you ask the direct and single question:
Have you been exposed to unwanted sexual attention in your workplace within the last 12 months?
You will get a low percentage that will not reflect the real extent of sexual harassment in your workplace. The reason is that that question is often perceived by employees as a physical, sometimes violent, form of sexual harassment.
If #MeToo has taught us something is that sexual harassment and unwanted sexual attention take many forms and you should be measuring them to get the whole picture. We have developed a solution that addresses concrete forms of sexual harassment, physical and verbal, which will give you a complete understanding of sexual harassment in your workplace.
Furthermore, for those who have experienced one or more types of sexual harassment, it’s important you also measure the frequency of the sexually abusive behavior, as well as find out who the perpetrator was: manager, colleague, or customer. With all this information, you can get a holistic understanding of the extent of sexual harassment in your workplace.
YOU NEED TO FOLLOW UP AND TAKE ACTION
The measurement itself can take place in connection with the annual employee survey. However, we recommend that the reporting and follow-up on sexually abusive behavior take place in an independent setting, where the focus is only on sexually abusive behavior. For example, do not have team or employee meetings to discuss engagement and sexual harassment, keep sexual harassment separate.
Following up on the results will cause employees to reflect on their behavior in the workplace, as well as create safety for victims which will be more inclined to come forward with complaints.
We have established that sexual harassment is grossly underreported. Therefore, people that decide to raise uncomfortable truths need to be championed. We developed a whistleblower solution that encourages people to report what they’ve experienced in a safe, yet easy way.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
- Make sure that all your employees have access to the form.
- Set up a QR code that takes employees to the complaint form
Employees can decide whether or not they want to remain anonymous.
This whistleblower solution sends a clear message to your employees, that your company takes their safety seriously and will not tolerate sexual harassment. Furthermore, the complaints work as a preventive measure for perpetrators.
Go ahead and set these up yourself and ensure the safety of your employees. We can also help you set it up or take over completely.