Despite Working Remotely, 1 In 4 People Are Enduring Sexual Harassment: Here’s How To Drive It Out

Despite Working Remotely, 1 In 4 People Are Enduring Sexual Harassment: Here’s How To Drive It Out
Is making suggestive remarks acceptable? One-third of men think so, but 92% of women class it as sexual harassment, according to a new report.
  • More than 1 in 4 people have experienced unwelcome sexual behavior via online channels while working remotely, according to a new report. 
  • Is making suggestive remarks acceptable? One-third of men think so, but 92% of women class it as sexual harassment. 
  • Allwork.Space spoke to Dimitris Tsingos, Co-Founder and President at Epignosis, to talk about the report’s findings and how companies can create safer workplace environments, remote and in-person. 

Despite the rise in remote work, sexual harassment in the workplace remains a latent issue. Harassment at work can take many shapes and forms, and when left unaddressed, it can negatively impact wellbeing, productivity, and company culture. 

A recent report, “The State of Sexual Harassment Training at Work”, by TalentLMS, Epignosis, and The Purple Campaign—a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending sexual harassment in the workplace—concluded that sexual harassment training can play a key role in reducing instances of sexual harassment by establishing shared norms and a shared understanding of acceptable conduct.  

Key findings from the report 

  • Men and women have significantly different beliefs as to what constitutes sexual harassment: 
  • Around two-thirds of men (69%) believe suggestive remarks are considered sexual harassment, compared to 92% of women. 
  • 47% of men believe making comments about someone’s gender identity counts as sexual harassment, compared to 73% of women. 
  • 90% report that after receiving training they are more aware of how to report an incident of sexual harassment. 
  • 70% report training makes them more likely to stay with their company. 
  • 61% report training makes them feel more productive in their role.  
  • Despite a decline in in-person contact due to remote work, incidents of sexual harassment did not disappear. More than one in four respondents say they have experienced unwelcome sexual behavior online (via Zoom or Google Hangouts, text message, email, or internal chat programs) since the start of COVID-19. 
  • Nearly 20% of respondents claim they either cannot remember when they received sexual harassment training from their employer or only received sexual harassment training once since being hired.    

The report identified an opportunity to increase the frequency and effectiveness of sexual harassment training programs. Doing so can bridge the gender gap in attitudes toward workplace sexual harassment, reduce incidents, and improve the handling of incidents. 

Regular training, the report found, can make employees “feel more valued as an individual, more productive, and ultimately more likely to stay with their company”.  

Allwork.Space spoke with Dimitris Tsingos, Co-Founder and President at Epignosis, to talk about the report’s findings and how companies can create safer workplace environments, remote and in-person.  

Allwork.Space: You recently conducted a survey about sexual harassment training the workplace, one of the key findings was that men and women have significantly different beliefs as to what constitutes sexual harassment. Can you share some more information on this finding and why it’s relevant?  

Dimitris Tsingos: When it comes to employee reactions to sexual harassment training, there are some significant disparities between female and male respondents, as well as some unintended, negative consequences. The survey found that sexual harassment training makes more men feel uncomfortable than women (23% vs. 12%) and men also report feeling more confused about how to behave in the workplace after training.  

When it came to asking what both men and women feel towards specific behaviors, we saw huge gaps between what the two identify as sexual harassment. For instance, while 92% of women consider unwanted physical contact as a form of sexual harassment, only 78% of men said the same. Eighty-eight percent of women consider making suggestive remarks — one of the most commonly reported incidents in the workplace — as harassment, compared to just 69% of men. 

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    The gap between the two grows larger when it comes to invading someone’s personal space (56% of men vs. 79% of women), staring or leering (51% of men vs. 76% of women), and making comments about someone’s gender identity or expression (47% of men vs. 73% of women).  

    Overall, the study found that men have more lenient beliefs as to what behaviors they consider to be forms of sexual harassment. Knowing this, companies need to implement training opportunities so that all employees have a better understanding of sexual harassment and how to identify if they are acting inappropriately or see something that shouldn’t be taking place. 

    Allwork.Space: Another interesting, yet alarming, finding from the report is that sexual harassment incidents increased as people began to work remotely, which only highlights the importance of providing regular training.  

    Yes. Unsurprisingly, cases of online sexual harassment have increased since the start of the pandemic. Based on the survey, 29% of the respondents said they have experienced unwelcome behavior on video calls, or through text messages, email, or other online platforms. 

    Harassment can happen in any environment, whether face-to-face or online. What is most important is to create an anti-harassment culture – and companies should do everything in their power to prevent and combat it, in all forms and environments. 

    Allwork.Space: One of the goals of the report was to investigate the state of sexual harassment training and how employees respond to it. Based on the findings, what are some observations you made and are there any recommendations you can share? 

    When it comes to educating employees on the fundamentals of sexual harassment in the workplace and how incidents should be reported, training has an overwhelmingly positive effect.  

    The majority surveyed reported that their training made them feel more aware of how to report incidents, what their company’s policy is, what constitutes sexual harassment, and better educated about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Eighty-six percent of respondents also reported that their training informed them of their legal rights in the event that they ever experience unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace.  

    Overall, sexual harassment training makes employees feel more valued as an individual, more productive, and ultimately more likely to stay with their company. With that being said, training on this issue must be included in companies’ budgets and offered all year long for the wellbeing of employees and success of a business as a whole. 

    Allwork.Space: What are some effective strategies companies can implement to create a safe workplace as people head back to the office?  

    First, employers should start by addressing the ambiguous gray areas – incidents of sexual harassment that aren’t always black and white. When working remotely, it’s often difficult for employers to witness incidents of sexual harassment, and there are no bystanders to provide a third-party report. 

    Revamping your training to address the gray areas that appear in real life can make a significant difference for those who experience sexual harassment — or witness it happen — whether in person or online. Second, employers should provide dedicated training on how to handle harassment that occurs through online platforms like Zoom and Skype. These platforms are here to stay, so showcasing examples of sexual harassment behavior that can occur online will help employees more clearly identify the behavior when it happens during the workday.  

    In addition, employers should replace outdated training materials with new content that reflects today’s complex working environment. While the lifespan of training materials can vary, it’s a good rule of thumb to get rid of any training videos that have existed for more than a decade. This is especially critical for entry-level employees who are entering the workforce in a remote or hybrid working capacity for the first time and will be highly influenced by the training they receive.  

    Lastly, employers should focus on sexual harassment prevention strategies to get ahead of incidents before they happen, as the results can have a significant impact. In fact, 90% of employees report being more aware of how to report incidents of sexual harassment after they receive sexual harassment training. 

    By investing the time in proper sexual harassment prevention, employers will not only reduce the amount of sexual harassment that takes place, but also play a role in making their employees feel more productive in their role and more likely to stay with their company in the long-run. 

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