Since the birth of the #MeToo social media movement in October 2017, the #MeToo hashtag has been used 19 million times on Twitter alone.¹ This wide-spreading movement was a sobering reminder that abuses of power commonly occur, and are often unreported.
However, over the past year, as both women and men have encouraged one another to speak up, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has seen a significant uptick in reports of harassment. In fact, in 2018, the EEOC reported a 13.6% increase in sexual harassment charges and a 50% increase in lawsuits filed alleging sexual harassment. In addition, traffic to the EEOC’s sexual harassment webpage has doubled since the beginning of the #MeToo movement.²
For employers, this presents an opportunity to provide strong leadership, reevaluate your company’s culture, and create an easy, non-threatening way for your employees to speak up, should they need to report harassment or provide feedback.
According to the EEOC, the best approach is a holistic one. Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum, Co-Chair of the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, stated that
“… to really tackle the problem of workplace harassment, we need to change workplace culture, hold people accountable, and have the right policies, procedures, and training. No one element, alone, will suffice. Instead, it takes a holistic effort that must start at the top with strong and committed leadership.” ²
To get started, we recommend taking the following 5 actions to prevent sexual harassment:
- Implement a clear sexual harassment policy in your company’s handbook.
- Train your employees to teach them what sexual harassment is, explain their right to a harassment-free workplace, provide a protocol to report harassment, and make sure they feel comfortable following that protocol.
- Train supervisors and managers separately to teach them about sexual harassment and how to best handle a complaint or report.
- Encourage open communication. Consistently talk to your employees about their experience and environment while they’re at work. Stay open to feedback, and ensure that your employees feel comfortable communicating with you.
- Take all reports seriously. If someone files a complaint about harassment, conduct a formal investigation. If the report is valid, quickly take action.³
While each of these five steps is extremely important to creating a healthy workplace environment, none of these strategies are effective without a committed leadership team dedicated to creating a culture of respect and trust.
David G. Bowman, a partner at global law firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius explained,
“It is important that organizations create a healthy top-down culture, where managers and leaders actively support the prospect of creating a healthier work environment.” ²
With dedicated leadership, well-written policy, a comprehensive training program, and a confidential method to communicate concerns, you will foster an environment where people feel safe, happy, and proud to work.
If you’d like support as you create your handbook and develop training programs, or if you’d like a confidential, third-party resource for employees to provide feedback, voice their concerns or discuss potential situations of harassment or discrimination, feel free to reach out to us.