- 81% of women and 43% of men have reported sexual harassment and/or assault in the workplace.
- As an employee, it’s important to feel safe and secure in all workplace environments.
- In a Q&A with Allwork.Space, Dr. Laura McGuire, a trauma-informed workplace training expert, shared her knowledge about how workers can advocate for themselves when experiencing discrimination or harassment in the workplace — and how to avoid companies that won’t address it.
Workplace harassment can take many shapes and forms, and when left unaddressed, it can negatively impact wellbeing, productivity, and company culture.
According to a national study, 81% of women and 43% of men have reported sexual harassment and/or assault in the workplace. Despite these shockingly high statistics, 36% of organizations don’t provide anti-harassment training.
As an employee, it’s important to feel safe and secure in all workplace environments. Harassment can occur in any interaction, whether face-to-face or online. It’s essential for workplace leaders to create an anti-harassment culture — but if they don’t live up to that duty, there are ways in which you can advocate for yourself in the workplace.
Dr. Laura McGuire, a trauma-informed workplace training expert, shared her knowledge in a Q&A to explain how women — and workers in general — can advocate for themselves when experiencing discrimination or harassment in the workplace.
Allwork.Space: What are some specific ways to advocate for yourself in the workplace?
Dr. Laura McGuire:
1. Know that you have a right to a safe work environment — physically and emotionally. Before starting a job anywhere, look up your rights under Title VII (your local and state worker’s rights protections), and the company’s own policies. This will help you feel empowered to know what is unacceptable and use your voice accordingly.
2. Understand what emotional safety vs. a hostile work environment look/feel like, and take note if you are having concerns. Knowing your rights from a legal perspective is one thing, but do some additional digging into what falls into the often complex categories of harassment, microaggressions, and toxic workplace culture. Many things get overlooked because employees don’t realize they can speak up before things escalate.
3. Don’t go it alone. So often when we are dealing with any form of workplace toxicity, we feel isolated and alone in our experience, which makes getting support and fighting for change so much harder. Reach out to supportive friends, family, and most importantly a therapist and/or attorney who can help you process what is going on and understand what next steps you want to take.
4. Understand who you can talk to inside and outside of the organization. When you are ready to seek help, research who in your organization you can share your concerns with. This will be someone in human resources, but may also include other individuals such as the Chief Diversity Officer and people through the Employee Resource Groups. At the same time, you should also look into local and national resources that support whistleblowers and resources on creating trauma-informed workplaces.
5. Remember that this isn’t a small issue, or about you being “too sensitive.” One of the most powerful things you can do to advocate for yourself is to surround yourself with people and messages that affirm your right to a workplace you can thrive in. If individuals tell you that this is just you being overly sensitive, not having enough grit, or that you have seen “what they went through,” — walk away. Just because things could be or have been worse does not mean we need to accept how they are currently.
Allwork.Space: How can workers — especially female workers — know if they work for a trauma-informed workplace?
Dr. Laura McGuire: When looking into different places of employment, research what kind of policies they have in place and where they have invested in company-wide trainings.
Do they offer amply leave time for family-life transitions, bereavement, and does their healthcare cover things like coverage for therapy? These will shine a light into whether how people process traumatic or intense life experiences has been on their radar already.
Feel free to ask other employees about how they feel after receiving feedback from their supervisors and if they feel that they can bring their whole selves to work. Companies that offer harsh feedback, offer little life/work balance, or ask people to not be complex intersectional beings 8 hours a day are big red flags.
Allwork.Space: What questions should women ask in interviews when seeking a new job opportunity?
Dr. Laura McGuire: As mentioned above, look into where professional development and training funds are allocated. Are the trainings focused on things like increasing sales and policy compliance, or is there an ongoing effort to discuss inclusion, emotional intelligence, and servant leadership? If they do seem to be committed to those conversations, ask how they are applied in daily life.
Feel free to ask “what if scenarios,” just like they will ask you. “What if my father is hospitalized in the middle of a presentation to executive leadership? How would I be supported in that moment and long term?” “If my coworker is going through a major life transition, how would I be able to support their wellbeing and workload?”
Allwork.Space: How should workers handle sexual misconduct when it happens virtually?
Dr. Laura McGuire: First and foremost, remember that virtual harassment is no less harmful than in person. In many ways it can feel more invasive — especially if it is on your phone or happening when you are working from home. People can also feel emboldened by a screen (hello comments sections). The first step is to document everything. Take screenshots, and if that’s not an option send yourself an email stating what occurred, this can be helpful if you want to file a complaint because it is time stamped.
If you do report the behavior, prepare your documents and timeline first. Having everything organized so that in the stress of the moment, you feel empowered with what you want to state and the outcome you are looking for. Explore restorative practices as a request for the next steps — especially if you feel that the behaviors were not predatory in nature.
This can give you more options to share a victim statement, make sure that the person gets coaching to understand exactly what they did wrong and how to assure they never repeat those behaviors. You may also offer more broad resolutions, like a long-term coaching and educational plan to be implemented across the company to make sure these kinds of experiences are not repeated for anyone else.
Allwork.Space: What are three signs that the company you work for is not equipped to handle misconduct?
Dr. Laura McGuire:
1. They do not offer a clear definition of misconduct or a flow chart of what happens if it is reported — ambiguity is a huge red flag.
2. Seemingly “minor” infractions are ignored because they “aren’t that bad.” Examples include sexist/homophobic/transphobic jokes, comments about people’s appearances, and inside jokes that are unclear in their nature.
3. They have no plan for addressing misconduct except a slap on the wrist or firing. Training should be the main focus, and it should be conducted in person at least once a year by a mix of compliance and social behavior experts (not only HR and legal). Options for addressing reports should include interim measures as well as restorative practices where appropriate.