The Top 10 Things Employers Can Do Right Now to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
1) Exhibit leadership on this issue. The first step in addressing sexual harassment in the workplace is changing the workplace culture to one that promotes respect, equity, and civility, and to make this change from the top.
- Any sexual jokes, innuendo, sexually inappropriate comments, or touching should not be tolerated and everyone in the workplace should hold each other accountable.
- The workplace culture should reflect civility and respect and promote support instead of encouraging silence.
2) Check in with employees. Odds are some employees have been victims of sexual harassment at some point in their work life.
- Conduct a sexual harassment workplace climate survey that employees can take anonymously so they feel safe to answer questions honestly.
- Use the results of this survey to determine employee needs, gaps in response, and inform how the company will address this issue with staff. This will help management assess what is going on in the workplace, including whether there are any unaddressed complaints.
3) Have a conversation. After administering the climate survey, report back to staff on the results and engage in a conversation about what the workplace community expectations should be going forward.
- Ask what changes employees would like to see in the workplace, and incorporate suggestions into a workplace strategy to address sexual harassment.
4) Close gaps in gender equity. Sexual harassment isn’t really about sex; it’s about power.
- Research suggests that when women are underrepresented in the workplace, they are more vulnerable to sexual harassment.
- Are there women in leadership positions at the company? Are women heard? If the workplace culture routinely sidelines, isolates, intimidates, or speaks over women, the ground is fertile for sexual harassment and other acts of sexual violence to flourish.
5) Create a workplace policy that addresses sexual and domestic violence and sexual harassment, and review it regularly. Sexual harassment, like other forms of gender-based violence and abuse, is primarily motivated by a desire to exert power and control.
- The workplace policy should address all forms of violence that impacts gender.
- The policy should account for confidentiality, provide clear guidance for reporting any acts of harassment as well as clear guidelines for accountability, and provide protections against retaliation for victims and witnesses.
6) Re-evaluate the performance review process. Supervisors should re-think what truly constitutes a “high performer” or “good supervisor.”
- If someone has engaged in disrespectful or abusive conduct with co-workers, then these acts should be taken into account regarding the perpetrator’s work performance.
7) Provide training on sexual harassment that is more than a one-time session conducted by lawyers. Training should be part of a holistic program that is about the prevention of harassing and abusive conduct, not the prevention of litigation.
- Training should be mandatory, provide support and resources, as well as review the reporting and investigation procedures.
- The best trainings are in-person and interactive and focus on changing behavior, not just knowing the law and procedures.
- Evaluate the training program to ensure it is effective.
8) Cultivate a culture of support and respect. One of the most effective ways of addressing sexual harassment in the workplace is to create a culture where people feel comfortable sharing their experiences with their colleagues.
- Consider creating opportunities for employees to connect with other employees so that they can share their experiences, create relationships, and foster collegial support.
9) Provide a confidential complaint procedure. Along with other awareness-raising tools such as safety cards and posters, establish a complaint line or other clear procedure for employees to report perpetrators, or harassing or abusive conduct.
- Provide resources and referrals to your local sexual assault or other victim-services provider. Invite these local providers to your workplace to provide training, education, and to be a resource for your staff on an ongoing basis.
- Identify ways for the complainant/victim to remain anonymous within the reporting procedure.
10) Engage everyone in the workplace, including men, and offer bystander intervention training. The most effective way for sexual harassment to truly be eradicated from the workplace is for everyone to become part of the solution.