Right now, it’s probably safe to say, worldwide awareness of sexual harassment is greater than it’s ever been in our lifetimes, as more people come forward with their stories, and more of us hear them.
Although some predict that the current wave of revelations will have little effect, and will eventually go the way of Anita Hill’s testimony back in 1991 (that is, buried beneath millions of subsequent news events), others say no. Much has changed since she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, not the least of which is the Internet, social media, and #MeToo.
Still, though, as Newsweek points out, when harassment occurs in today’s workplace and is reported (which is only about 25 percent of the time), companies don’t always protect their employees. Despite all of the above, they may be reluctant to impose consequences on predators, especially when they’re top talent or star employees and the accusers are not. Or when management brushes it off.
But considering the current climate of disclosure, much of this may be about to change. Even for companies that only pay lip service to the concept of respectful treatment for their workers, the concept of financial health is something they do get. And as many more are now seeing, sexual harassment claims can impact an organization’s bottom line.
“At the tip of the iceberg are direct financial costs associated with harassment complaints says the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Time, energy, and resources are diverted from operation of the business to legal representation, settlements, litigation, court awards, and damages … But beyond this is the insidious and damaging impact on a company’s culture including decreased workplace performance and productivity, increased employee turnover, and reputational harm.”
So what can companies do when faced with this? Enlist the help of senior management say Katina Sawyer and Christian Thoroughgood in Business Insider.
To prove their commitment to stopping this, as well as other forms of discrimination, management must first determine what constitutes sexual harassment (and what doesn’t), implement prevention strategies, create and protect anonymous reporting channels, and hold HR accountable for enforcing policies.
Perhaps the most effective strategy, though, is to participate in and present at harassment workshops and training.
“When workplace leaders truly lead,” Sawyer and Thoroughgood say, the victims feel more empowered (#MeToo) to report their experiences and bystanders become more likely to intervene. Perpetrators, in turn, realize they could be punished or fired over sexual harassment, making them less likely to do it.”