WeToo? Closing The Gender Divide in Harassment Awareness At Work

What progress have we made in the workplace on sexual harassment?

What progress have we made in the workplace on sexual harassment?

One year into the explosion of the #MeToo movement and 12 years after it was founded by Tarana Burke, the impact on the international cultural consciousness suggests a closer look at how the stories, consequences and actions of survivors have impacted attitudes about sexual harassment in the workplace.

At this milestone, it is important to note what has changed, what has not and a hope for the future. It is also a time when revelations of #MeToo have not slowed.

What progress have we made in the workplace on sexual harassment 12 years after the founding of #MeToo?

It is at a time when hundreds of survivors protested at the Hart Senate Office Building and outside the Supreme Court and Connie Chung acknowledged her sexual assault 50 years ago by a family doctor in an open letter to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford published  in The Washington Post.

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At the New York City Ballet, “Within the past nine months, it has weathered the abrupt retirement of its leader of more than three decades, Peter Martins, amid an investigation into reports of physical and emotional abuse. It forced out three of its 14 male principal dancers after they were accused of sharing texts of sexually explicit photos of women,” according to the New York Times.

That is contrast to new research that says managers are more aware and that behaviors have changed. In a new study from the Society for Human Resource Management, “one-third of 1,034 executives said they have changed their behaviors to a moderate, great or very great extent to avoid behavior that could be perceived as sexual harassment. About one-fourth of 1,022 managers said they have changed their behaviors,” the report shows.

“While 72 percent of employee respondents told SHRM they were satisfied with their company’s efforts to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, more than one-third still believe their workplace fosters sexual harassment from a small to a very great extent,” the study shows.

Additional new research out of the United Kingdom from the Fawcett Society, reveals that there’s been a “significant shift in attitudes to sexual harassment. According to the study, 53 percent of people say that since #MeToo, attitudes about what’s considered acceptable are different,” Mashable reports.

“The research also found that young men are more likely to challenge sexual harassment since the #MeToo movement. 58 percent of young men say they’re now more likely to speak up against sexual harassment.”

Not so much good news for older men at work. “Attitudes among older men are lagging behind, however. Per the research, a mere 16 percent of men of the age of 55 have talked to another man about sexual harassment — compared to 54 percent of young men,” the study shows.

Read more in Take The Lead on harassment studies

While #MeToo has not only highlighted harassment, but resulted in the firings and resignations of many top men in media and more, sexual harassment still exists.

While #MeToo has not only highlighted harassment, but resulted in the firings and resignations of many top men in media and more, #sexualharassment still exists.

“Sexual harassment plays a major role in keeping women down, but for all these years researchers have barely considered this as a factor,” writes Emily Peck in Huffington Post.

“’I can’t help but wonder if this has been the elephant in the room all along,’ said labor economist Laura Sherbin, who studies the lack of women at the top as co-president at the Center for Talent Innovation, a think tank and consultancy that works on diversity issues,” Peck writes.

“Sherbin said her eyes were opened to the issue after working on a comprehensive study of sexual harassment that her group initiated in the wake of Me Too. ‘I think a lot of people who have been doing research on the topic didn’t truly understand this was happening. We didn’t realize we had to act.'”

A history of sexual harassment in the workplace also contributes to health issues for years, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh.

“In the study of roughly 300 middle-aged women, a history of workplace sexual harassment was also associated with poor sleep and with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure,” according to NPR.

“These are experiences that [a woman] could have had long ago … and it can have this long arm of influence throughout a woman’s life,” Rebecca Thurston, lead author of the study, and a research psychologist and director of the Women’s Behavioral Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, tells NPR.

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Changing the workplace culture has to begin with changing attitudes for men. Promundo, a leader in research and programs on manhood in the U,S. and with partners in over 45 countries, released a study this spring at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting focusing specifically on learning more about young men and sexual harassment.

The original study included representative samples of more than 1,000 young men each in the United States, United Kingdom  and Mexico, across rural and urban areas and all educational and income levels. The findings are disturbing.

According to Promundo, one in five young men in Mexico and nearly one in three young men in the US and the UK had made sexually harassing comments to a woman or girl they didn’t know, in a public place – like the street, their workplace, their school/university, or an internet or social media space – in the previous month.

Nearly half, or 42 percent to 48 percent of young men aged 18 to 30 in the three countries studied had teased someone, either male or female, or called them names, in the previous month. One in three  young men in the US and the UK, had posted photos or messages to embarrass or harass someone, either male or female, in the previous month.

It is because of this, Promundo offers resources and programs for working with young men, including: Manhood 2.0, a gender-transformative curriculum developed by Promundo and the University of Pittsburgh to help young men and communities reflect and build collective support for making positive, healthy changes in their lives. They offer resources for working through schools, sports, and workplaces at: Future of Manhood.

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“It certainly feels like a tipping point, a moment when the accumulation of small changes provoke much larger change,” writes Ellen Bravo, co-director of Family Values @Work in Quartz. Yet, “An untold number of women in every industry are experiencing offensive and often criminal sexual misconduct every day, with impunity. Companies are held liable if sexual harassment can be proven—but are not required even to have a policy prohibiting the behavior. Elected officials have introduced legislation in Congress to change some of this, but the bills languish under the thumbs of recalcitrant committee chairs.”

Still, she claims, “The #MeToo movement is unstoppable.”

In order to change the culture, many companies are changing policies, instituting harassment trainings and allowing for confidential third-party reporting.

In order to change the culture in response to #MeToo, many companies are changing policies, instituting harassment trainings and allowing for confidential third-party reporting.

“In a new report on sexual harassment authored by me and my New America colleagues at the Better Life Lab, we suggest that integrating cognitive science insights into anti-sexual harassment trainings could make them more effective at teaching and engaging employees on what is a particularly challenging subject matter,” writes Elizabeth Weingarten at Quartz.

“One crucial part of any training is to deepen participants’ understanding of the nature of the problem—especially why it continues to be so pervasive. Some experts do this through exercises that show participants gaps in their own knowledge,” Weingarten writes. “For instance, gender stereotypes can contribute to harassing behavior or “gender policing.

Read more in Take The Lead on sexual harassment

“In the year that has passed since the first women came forward to tell The New Yorker and the New York Times our stories of harassment, rape, assault, and career derailment at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, the country has begun to change, albeit slowly. For one thing, women are no longer quite as afraid to come forward with our truth,” Actress Rosanna Arquette writes in Refinery 29.

“A dam has burst: Women began telling their stories—the first lending momentum to those that came after — and we haven’t stopped, with stories of harassment and assault coming, not just from Hollywood, but from academia, from the art world, from domestic and farm workers.”

Arquette adds, “What needs to happen now? We will continue to voice our collective rage at a society that is changing, but only incrementally, in fits and starts. We don’t need to hear excuses from a bunch of defensive men. Where are the men with integrity and class and strength and grace? Step up. Come forward. Say, “This isn’t okay, and we stand with you to change our very damaged culture.” Be strong enough to stand with women. Because this isn’t going away. You can’t beat us. Not anymore. You’d better join us.”

 About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com