- Despite the rise in remote work, sexual harassment in the workplace persists.
- More than one in four people have experienced unwelcome sexual behavior online since the start of the pandemic.
- It’s essential for workplace leaders to create an anti-harassment culture. Here are some ways to build an inclusive and positive culture in the workplace.
According to a 2017 survey, approximately 80% of women in America report experiencing some sort of sexual harassment in the workplace.
And despite the rise in remote work, sexual harassment in the workplace has persisted.
Harassment at work can take many shapes and forms, and when left unaddressed, it can negatively impact wellbeing, productivity, and company culture.
Although there’s been a decline in in-person contact over the course of the pandemic, incidents of sexual harassment did not disappear. More than one in four people say they have experienced unwelcome sexual behavior online (via Zoom or Google Hangouts, text message, email, or internal chat programs) since the start of the pandemic.
Harassment can occur in any environment, whether face-to-face or online. It’s essential for workplace leaders to create an anti-harassment culture, and companies should do what they can to prevent and combat it.
There are many ways for leaders to mitigate sexual harassment in the workplace, one of the best is to implement sexual harassment training programs.
Implement sexual harassment training
A report by TalentLMS, Epignosis, and The Purple Campaign 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.
Sexual harassment training programs can bridge the gender gap in attitudes toward workplace sexual harassment, reduce incidents, and improve the handling of incidents.
XpertHR surveyed more than 500 HR professionals about sexual harassment prevention training and workplace policies, and found that 92% of the companies had formal sexual harassment policies in place.
However, only 37% stated that their policies would be updated the following year. Out of those surveyed, 74% stated that their companies did conduct sexual harassment prevention training.
A company’s anti-harassment policy should be reviewed in detail and reinforced during this type of training. It is also best to conduct the training on a regular basis since companies often have updates, policy changes, and new employees.
Training should also be mandatory for every single employee, manager, and chief executive officer.
Create a zero-tolerance policy
Though individual differences play a role in whether a person sexually harasses another, the scientific community believes that “it is organizational conditions rather than individual characteristics that are the most powerful predictors of sexual harassment” in the workplace.
Companies and workplace leaders need to prioritize the safety and comfort of their employees by ensuring that sexual harassment of any kind, through any medium, is not tolerated.
No more “three strikes and you’re out” policies; once an employee has offended, they should be terminated.
While this is a hard approach to mitigating harassment, employees will be less likely to engage in this behavior if they know it’s completely unacceptable to the company (and will result in them being fired).
Develop a safe workplace culture
Not only should a workplace be equitable in every aspect, but its culture should foster employee wellbeing.
Work cultures that tolerate any form of sexual harassment are negatively impacting the health and wellbeing of employees.
Unfortunately, gender harassment incidents increased from 76% in 2016 to 92% in 2018, pointing to “an increase in hostility towards women” in the workplace characterized by making sexist remarks, sharing inappropriate stories, or displaying sexist material.
No company is immune to the need to create and maintain a workplace that is free of harassment. Leaders will need to act now if they wish to create a safe, non-toxic work environment for women.
This can be done by:
- Ensuring employees understand what sexual harassment is. Companies need to take steps to ensure that employees as well as managers, employers, and executives understand exactly the types of actions and behaviors that are inappropriate. Sexual harassment encompasses a wide range of behaviors and actions that are objectionable and undesirable including making inappropriate sexual comments, unwanted physical touch, and displaying or watching inappropriate content, etc.
- Promoting sexual harassment programs. These programs need to use positive messaging that assumes employees want to do the right thing, as well as engages them to be a part of the sexual harassment prevention solution, and motivates them to help promote a respectful culture. This can be far more effective in shaping employee conduct than the approach that focuses on consequences for bad behavior.
- Enlisting employees in ensuring a harassment-free workplace. By enlisting the aid of employees, companies can help the odds that incidents or warning signs of harassment will be seen, reported and acted upon, and even prevented. Letting employees know that they play this role, and providing them with training and resources to help them take action are important steps in leveraging the power of the masses to create a culture of safety and respect.
- Taking quick and decisive action when sexual harassment occurs. If employees feel that nothing will be done if sexual harassment issues emerge, they will stop reporting these incidents. Even worse, those employees who engage in unwanted behavior may feel emboldened to continue. It’s critical that employers respond promptly to reports of harassment, engage in a thorough and objective review/investigation of the matter, and impose meaningful consequences.