More Than Sexism in Workplace: What You Can Do About Sexual Harassment

GREENWICH, CT - JUNE 11: Gretchen Carlson speaks Women at the Top: Female Empowerment in Media Panel at the 2016 Greenwich International Film Festival on June 12, 2016 in Greenwich, Connecticut. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for GIFF)It is way more than he said vs. she said miscommunication. It is not just sexism in workplace discomfort, it is a serious obstruction to fairness in the workplace. It is a colossal impediment to women leaders everywhere. And it is illegal.Sexual harassment at work is pervasive and the latest high visibility lawsuit involving Fox News CEO Roger Ailes is just one more example of one woman standing up for many women.What can you do in a similar situation?And what is the latest on training for women leaders and all employees?Former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson filed the suit against Ailes personally, and not against the larger media company. The document describes his behavior “from lewd innuendo, ogling and remarks about Ms. Carlson’s body to demands for sex as a way for her to improve her job standing,” according to the New York Times.Carlson’s contract for “The Real Story” was not renewed, in spite of 1.1 million daily viewers. Ailes claims the lawsuit is a baseless retaliation for the firing.  According to CNN, “In the hours since the lawsuit was announced, at least 10 other women have contacted the law firm, wanting to speak about Ailes’ treatment, according to a spokesman for the firm.”Millions of women around the globe go to work each day or report to a boss in an environment of sexual harassment where a co-worker or supervisor talks about the woman’s appearance, clothes, body, or makes overtures in a sexual manner. This is not just sexism in workplace conundrums. This is illegal.[bctt tweet=“This is not just sexism in workplace conundrums. This is illegal.”]These situations are, unfortunately, indicative of a very widespread problem.  Kerry Close writes in Money: “Sadly, Carlson’s allegations are not unique. A 2015 survey from Cosmopolitan found that about one in three women report that they’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace. Similar to Carlson’s complaint, 38 percent of those women said that harassment came from a male manager. Unlike the cable anchor, however, more than 70 percent said they did not report their abuse.”In a stunning op-ed in the New York Times, Sam Polk, founder and chief executive of Everytable,  writes that “bro talk” at Wall Street firms and beyond keep sexism and exclusion of women part of the culture.“The promulgation of diversity committees and women’s leadership summits and inclusion training suggests that there is some institutional acknowledgment of this sexism. Yet, these things have resulted in little change. What we need is something simpler: individuals speaking up and challenging norms, especially when it’s uncomfortable. So far, women have done the heavy lifting. They’ve written the articlesfiled the lawsuits and raised awareness. Men rarely do or say anything,” Polk writes.Earlier this year, Science magazine reported a case of harassment that raced through the field of anthropology, prompting surveys, inquiry and discussion.“Senior women report years of unwanted sexual attention in the field, at meetings, and on campus. A widely cited anonymous survey of anthropologists and other field scientists, called the SAFE study and published in July 2014 in PLOS ONE, reported that 64 percent of the 666 respondents had experienced some sort of sexual harassment, from comments to physical contact, while doing fieldwork,” Science reported.Recent cases have been high profile such as the suit at Tinder or in smaller police departments or municipalities.For any of these situations, keeping quiet is not the answer.Documentation and speaking up are the solutions to alerting the administration and changing the behavior. So is going to Human Resources and filing a complaint.[bctt tweet=“Documentation and speaking up are the solutions to changing the behavior.”]“If you don’t feel comfortable dealing with the offender’s boss, start with HR. That contact should open an investigation, which would involve speaking to the offender, that person’s boss and any witnesses to the abuse,” Close writes. “This is where your records of the harassment will prove key.”If the person who is targeting you emails, texts, leaves messages or sends photos, definitely save them. This can be critical evidence.The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as this:“It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.”A staggering number of incidents are reported to the EEOC, despite the high percentage of cases that go unreported.  Just last month, the EEOC released a comprehensive report on workplace harassment, with troubling findings, according to Slate. More than 90,000 workplace harassment charges were filed last  year through the EEOC, dealing with race, gender, age and sexual orientation harassment.“We cannot be complacent bystanders and expect our workplace cultures to change themselves,” the report concludes.According to Money, “Last year, the EEOC fielded 6,800 claims alleging sex-based harassment, a number that the agency says is down from a high of 7,944 in 2010.”Alicia Adamczyk writes in Money: “Touching or assaulting someone is clearly illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, says Maya Rahu, director of workplace equality at the National Women’s Law Center. But she says courts are constantly grappling with what types of behaviors or remarks rise to the level of ‘severe or pervasive conduct,’ the standard that hostile work environment sexual harassment allegations must meet.”Attorney Judith Langevin writes in JDSupra: “Some sources claim that 1 in 3 women aged 18 to 34 still report being sexually harassed at work. The EEOC suggests that the number is 1 in 4, regardless of age. The cost of sexual harassment remains high for employers, whether incurred through legal fees and judgments or through lost productivity and diminished morale.”What is the answer to changing the cultures and environments that permit this behavior?To improve the training, Langevin advises to make sure the organization and the trainer take the topic seriously. To be clear, sexual harassment is far beyond sexism in workplace complaints.Langevin adds: “Avoid shame and blame. Although sexual harassment has real and damaging consequences that must be taken seriously, a lot of harassment happens as a result of ignorance, carelessness, or insensitivity, rather than bad intentions.  Most people – even those whose words or actions constitute legally actionable sexual harassment – don’t intend harm.  An important purpose of training is to make employees understand that harm can occur even when it’s not intended.  That’s best done with empathy and a matter-of-fact approach, rather than hostility.”While it is true that many organizations and corporations have in place discrimination training, a new EEOC report finds that these trainings are often not the solution.“Federal labor regulators have concluded that sexual harassment prevention training is often ineffective and sometimes even harmful, in a new report that strengthens growing claims that U.S. universities are failing to combat gender discrimination,” according to The Guardian.Author Sam Levin writes: “’We were surprised at the research that showed that the type of anti-harassment training that has been done to date … is not as effective in actually changing behaviors,” said Chai Feldblum, EEOC commissioner and co-author of the report.”Harassment might not always look like you think it would. The traditional dynamic of sexual harassment has been of a boss with an employee, but the rise of more women in leadership positions has brought about the emergence of a new type of sexual harassment of contrapower—or a male employee harassing a female boss— according to new research from a Belgian academic.“University of Antwerp researcher Dr. Jan Wynen analyzed sexual harassment in relation to power, gender and age and found that the upward mobility of women in organizations did not stop them being harassed,” writes Mark Abernathy in HC Online.“With many managerial and senior management positions now filled by women, the ‘sociocultural’ model of harassment dominates: that’s where power relations are played out on the basis of men interacting with women, not on a basis of organizational politics,” Abernathy writes.“Yet the research shows that the ‘contrapower’ harassment is only evident in the 30-44 age group. ‘A possible explanation for this could be the fact that as women are climbing the career ladder, they are not yet experienced in dealing with sexual harassment, while older women with supervisory authority have become more competent in dealing with potential harassers,’ says Dr. Wynen.”As women leaders, telling the truth about discriminatory behavior and the more serious sexual harassment is important not to just to change an immediate situation, but to avert and prevent problems in the future for other women coming up the organizational ladder behind you.