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Employer

Survivor and Co-Worker

Advocate

How-To Guide

Workplace Climate Surveys

Assessing & Preventing Sexual Harassment & Violence

The best prevention-oriented climate surveys are anonymous, confidential, and explore workplace culture and equity.

Thorough and holistic climate surveys signal that your organization recognizes the disparities that facilitate harassment and violence and intends to hold harassers accountable

Incident-specific protocols and one-off trainings have proven insufficient to address the complex and deep-seated roots of sexual harassment and violence: power, control, and workplace inequality. Multifaceted response and prevention programs are much more responsive to employee needs, and engender their confidence in organizational values.

Each organization has its own culture, gaps, and needs. A well-executed workplace climate survey process lays the foundation for a tailored response and prevention program. It is crucial to review the results of the survey with your employees, solicit suggestions for change, collaboratively close gaps, and engage in an on-going conversation about community expectations.

 

To fully ascertain a workplace’s climate and gaps, assess prevalence, equity, and accountability:

Prevalence

Frequency, nature, and impacts of workplace sexual harassment & violence

Equity

Belief in access to equal opportunity & fair treatment

Accountability

Confidence that the process protects victims & removes harassers

Assessing Prevalence

Victims recognize and contextualize incidents in varying ways, and are often understandably reluctant to disclose their most intimate, sensitive, and difficult experiences.

It may seem as if the easiest part of developing a climate survey is ascertaining the frequency and nature of workplace incidents of sexual harassment and violence. However, employees must be safe, protected, and informed in order to provide the most accurate picture of what’s going on at the workplace.

Establish a safe space

  • Assure employees that participation is voluntary.
  • Warn that the survey will cover difficult topics, and encourage taking breaks or stopping the survey, as necessary.
    • Consider including RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline – 800.656.HOPE (4673) – for the benefit of participants who may need immediate assistance.
  • Keep responses anonymous and confidential.
    • Assure that surveys will not be cross-referenced to identify participants, and no specific disciplinary action will be taken as a result of information provided in the survey (unless required to do so under law).
    • If feasible, consider retaining a neutral third party to receive and compile the surveys.
      Consider summarizing how to report a co-worker, just in case the survey prompts a victim to report.

Frame broad and inclusive questions

  • Offer the survey to all employees.
  • Provide specific examples of inappropriate workplace behaviors.

According to a Select Task Force of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. This wide range is a result of how questions are asked, and to whom:

  • In the case of a random sample survey, 25% of participants reported having experienced “sexual harassment.” This percentage rose to 40% when participants were asked if they had experienced one or more listed examples of “specific sexually-based behaviors, such as unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion.”
  • When a survey was offered to a non-random sample, 50% of participants reported having experienced “sexual harassment.” This percentage skyrocketed to 75% when examples were offered.

Determine which behaviors to assess

Sexual harassment and violence in the workplace isn’t only about a perpetrator’s misguided desire to pursue a sexual relationship with a co-worker, subordinate, or customer. Abusive behaviors can arise from animus towards a particular gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Furthermore, some people are more likely to be victimized, and have less recourse, because of their race, immigration status, disability, and education/income level.

In order to account for these complexities, climate surveys should contemplate the wide range of behaviors that constitute sexual harassment and violence. Also consider exploring other aspects of identity, often known as intersectionality, that increase the likelihood of victimization and decrease access to recourse. 

Sex-Based Harassment

Unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, ostensibly in pursuit of a sexual relationship
Example
In the past 12 months, how often did someone at work:

Response Options: Never / Once / Once a Month or Less / Two-Three Times a Month / Once a Week or More / One or More Times a Day

  • Make unwanted attempts to establish a romantic sexual relationship with you despite your efforts to discourage it?
  • Make you feel like you were being bribed with some sort of reward or special treatment to engage in sexual behavior?
  • Make you feel threatened with some sort of retaliation for not being sexually cooperative (e.g., by mentioning an upcoming review)?
  • Touch you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable?

Gender Harassment

Sexist, crude, offensive, or hostile behaviors that are deviod of sexual interest and aim to insult
Example
In the past 12 months, how often did someone at work:

Response Options: Never / Once / Once a Month or Less / Two-Three Times a Month / Once a Week or More / One or More Times a Day

  • Repeatedly tell sexual stories or jokes that were offensive to you?
  • Make offensive remarks about your appearance, body, or sexual activities?
  • Refer to people of your sex in insulting or offensive terms?
  • Put you down or act in a condescending way toward you because of your sex?

Sexual Orientation-Based and Gender Identity-Based Harassment

May include both unwanted sexual attention/sexual coercion or crude, offensive, or hostile behaviors
Example
In the past 12 months, have you experienced any of the following behaviors? Is so, please indicate whether the behavior was based on your [sexual orientation] [gender identity]? 

Response Options: Never / Once / Once a Month or Less / Two-Three Times a Month / Once a Week or More / One or More Times a Day

  • I was subjected to negative comments or remarks.
  • I was subjected to offensive jokes.
  • I was touched in a way that made me feel uncomfortable.
  • I was physically threatened or assaulted.

Intersectional Harassment

Unwanted sexual attention/sexual coercion or crude, offensive, or hostile behaviors on the basis of more than one identity group, including any combination of gender, race, ethnicity, disability, religion, age, immigration status, and income level

Example
In the past 12 months, have you experienced any of the following behaviors? Is so, please indicate whether the behavior was based on any of the characteristics listed. 
  • I was subjected to [negative comments or remarks] [offensive jokes] [touched in a way that made me feel uncomfortable] [physically threatened or assaulted].
    • If Yes, indicate whether the behavior was on the basis of your:
      • Gender
      • Race or Ethnicity
      • Disability
      • Other:________

Assessing Equity

Sexual harassment isn’t really about sex; it’s about power. When women are underrepresented and marginalized in the workplace, they are more vulnerable to sexual harassment.

An anonymous and confidential climate survey presents an advantageous opportunity to learn more about the status of women in the workplace. Workplace cultures that routinely sideline, isolate, intimidate, or speak over women provide fertile ground for sexual harassment and other acts of sexual violence to flourish. This is also true for other groups that are more susceptible to sexual harassment and violence, including employees who are racial or ethnic minorities, undocumented, LGBT, disabled, or paid low wages.

Inclusiveness

Sexual harassment and violence run rampant in workplaces where employees are generally marginalized and disempowered on the basis of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or income level.
Example
In the past 12 months, have you experienced any of the following behaviors? Is so, please indicate whether the behavior was based on any of the characteristics listed. 
  • I was ignored by others.
    • If Yes, indicate whether the behavior was on the basis of your:
      • Gender
      • Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity
      • Race or Ethnicity
      • Disability
      • Other:________

Job Security & Satisfaction

Well-vested and satisfied employees are more likely to report incidents, stand up for their coworkers, and buy into prevention-oriented activities.  
Example
How satisfied are you with the following? (Respond to each item.)

Response Options: Very Dissatisfied / Dissatisfied / Neither Dissatisfied nor Satisfied / Satisfied / Very Satisfied

  • The kind of work I do
  • My job security
  • My chances to acquire valuable job skills
  • The direction/supervision I receive

Opportunities for Advancement

The absence of women in leadership positions is a conspicuous indicator of a workplace’s principles with respect to sexual harassment and violence.
Example
In the past 12 months, have you experienced any of the following behaviors? Is so, please indicate whether the behavior was based on any of the characteristics listed. 
  • I was passed over for a promotion.
    • If Yes, indicate whether the behavior was on the basis of your:
      • Gender
      • Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity
      • Race or Ethnicity
      • Disability
      • Other:________

Empowerment

Employees must feel heard, believed, and safe from retaliation in order to sound the alarm the moment inappropriate conduct beings to creep into the workplace.
Example
How would you describe your perceptions regarding your current team? (Respond to each item.)

Response Options: Strongly Disagree / Disagree / Neither Agree nor Disagree / Agree / Strongly Agree

  • My coworkers treat each other with dignity and respect.
  • My supervisors care about my well-being.
  • Employees are encouraged to speak out frankly even when we are critical of well-established ideas.
  • Agreeing with powerful others is the best alternative.

Assessing Accountability

Zero tolerance policies and practices are useless if harassers are not held accountable, and victims who stand up for themselves are made worse off.

Employees pay close attention to how their workplace handles allegations of sexual harassment and violence.

Example: A junior employee has reported a senior manager (and high performer) for sexual harassment, the third such report made against this senior manager within the last ten years. In the previous two instances, the victims resigned and the senior manager was reprimanded in writing.

After a brief investigation, the junior employee is similarly asked to resign, and the senior manager is required to undergo counseling. Once other employees notice that the junior employee is gone and the senior manager remains, rumors abound that the senior manager is “protected” because of his high value to the company.

In this example, the workplace has lost the confidence of its employees while emboldening harassers. To avoid this outcome, ascertain employee confidence in how allegations are addressed as a basis to open a dialogue on improving responses.

Victim’s Perspective

Victims should be taken seriously, treated compassionately, and have a say over responses to make sure their needs are met.
Example
How comfortable would you feel discussing a behavior or experience that made you feel uncomfortable with any of the following (Respond to each item.)

Response Options: Very Uncomfortable / Uncomfortable / Neither Comfortable nor Uncomfortable / Comfortable / Very Comfortable

  • The person involved
  • A non-supervisory coworker
  • A supervisor
  • A senior leader

Perpetrator Accountability

Perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence constantly test boundaries. The greatest deterred to escalating and repeated misconduct is early and meaningful accountability.
Example
Did any of the outcomes listed below occur as a result of the making of an oral and/or written complaint? (Respond to each item.)

Response Options: Yes / No / Don’t Know

  • No action was taken.
  • Someone talked to the person to ask them to change their behavior.
  • My work station location or duties were changed to help me avoid the person.
  • I was encouraged to drop the issue.
  • The person stopped the behavior.
  • My leadership punished me for bringing it up (e.g., loss of privileges, denial of promotion/training, or reassignment to a less favorable job).
  • There was some official career action taken against the person for their behavior.

Satisfaction with Complaint Process

Employees prefer clear instructions on how to file complaints, regular updates as complaints are processed, and timely conclusions that prioritize their safety and needs.
Example
How satisfied were you with: (Respond to each item.)

Response Options: Very Unsatisfied / Unsatisfied  / Neither Satisfied nor Unsatisfied / Satisfied / Very Satisfied

  • The availability of information on how to file a complaint?
  • How you were treated by personnel handling the complaint?
  • Being informed about the current status of the complaint?
  • The amount of time it took to address the complaint?

Deterred Victims

When policies and practices fail to hold perpetrators accountable, victims may become increasingly uncomfortable reporting incidents.
Example
Have you opted not to make an oral and/or written complaint about a behavior or experience? 
  • If Yes, what what were your reasons for not doing so? (Respond to each item.)
    • The behavior or experience stopped on its own.
    • I confronted the person myself.
    • I did not know how to file a complaint.
    • I did not want anyone else to know.
    • I was ashamed or embarrassed.
    • I wanted to forget about it and move on.
    • I did not think I would be believed.
    • I did not trust the process would be fair.
    • I did not think anything would be done.
    • I thought that the person who did it would get away with it.
    • I thought it might hurt my career.
    • I was concerned for my physical safety.
    • I feared losing my job.

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