The #MeToo movement has brought a number of issues to light, chief among them being the unfair and downright deplorable treatment women often face at work. Whether their jobs involve acting on the silver screen or making spreadsheets in the office, women have faced workplace harassment for far too long. And while the movement has encouraged countless men and women to speak up about what they’ve experienced and has prompted many businesses to take the necessary steps to prevent these problems, the reality is that there are still countless workers who feel forced to endure instances of quid pro quo and other despicable behavior from their harassers.
After the accusations brought against Harvey Weinstein went public, the #MeToo movement (which was first created a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke) really took off. So much, in fact, that Google searches for sexual assault and harassment hit an all-time high. According to researchers, Google queries for sexual harassment and assault were 86% higher than expected from October 2017 to June 2018. Searches pertaining to preventative training for workplace harassment and assault increased by 51%, while searches involving the reporting of sexual violence increased by 30%. Back in 2015, sexual assault reporting occurred at a rate of 86.9 per 100,000 population, but the increased instances of survivors speaking out and the quest for knowledge on these subjects could cause reporting to improve nationwide.
In the eight months following actress Alyssa Milano’s #MeToo tweet, the viral post that arguably led to more widespread awareness of the movement, there were 40 million to 54 million Google searches about understanding, preventing, and reporting sexual harassment and sexual assault. It’s no surprise, then, that American workplaces have taken notice and are taking steps to be part of the solution.
Data shows that in 46% of two-parent households in the U.S., both parents work full-time jobs. Whether you’re single or have a family at home, being part of the American workforce entitles you to certain protections. Unfortunately, workplaces have not historically taken an active role in trying to prevent workplace harassment, with many workers citing an atmosphere of compliance and fear for the future of their employment if they spoke out. Experts say that businesses need to create a culture of transparency and encourage employees to speak out when they witness instances of harassment, even if they aren’t directly involved.
One lawyer interviewed by Forbes explained:
“While employers may believe themselves to be approachable and view their workplace as a supportive environment for employees to raise a complaint, in 2019 there will need to be a further push towards adopting more proactive approaches to reports of sexual harassment. Updated workplace training schemes must be activated, not only to encourage employees to consider their own behaviors, but also to enforce bystander intervention training, showing perpetrators that intolerance of sexual harassment is workplace-wide. Specialist training should also be provided for HR teams and others who manage these situations, ensuring that every complaint is treated sensitively, seriously and with an open mind.”
The National Statistics Council estimates that 37% of all employee time is spent in meetings. In 2018, some of those meetings involved workplace harassment education and training to prevent these types of incidents from occurring. But unfortunately, those meetings may not be doing enough. According to a recent report conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Center for Employment Equity, 99.8% of the estimated 5 million people who experience sexual harassment at work between 2012 and 2016 never filed a complaint. Of the complaints that were filed, 68% of them were accompanied by complaints of retaliatory actions. Nearly two-thirds of people who filed the complaints lost their jobs as a result, with management tending to minimize the complaints or launch aggressive attacks against the accuser.
Researchers made a point of stressing the importance of managers taking responsibility for these incidents, rather than outsourcing them to lawyers and considering them to be strictly a legal issue. Since the number one complaint from employees about their employers is a lack of communication, managers taking an active role in preventative methods and disciplinary action is likely what’s needed to create safer workplaces.
Increased awareness is merely the first step for organizations. The harsh reality is that women still don’t feel comfortable reporting instances of harassment for good reason. Their fear of being labeled as a troublemaker with no sense of humor or even being demoted or losing their position altogether is often enough pressure to suffer in silence. But that unfortunately only perpetuates the cycle. If you feel filing a formal complaint could jeopardize your employment or your safety, you could confide in a trusted coworker or seek out external resources (like the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) to potentially lodge a claim. Keep in mind that, by law, you are protected against retaliation. You should also check to see whether your employer has an existing harassment policy and assess whether going through that channel may be a better option than you’d assume. If all else fails, you may want to speak with a lawyer to gain understanding and decide on a course of action.
If you’ve been harassed at work, it may feel like you’re alone — but if numbers are anything to go by, you definitely aren’t. One of the best weapons against harassment is your own education; if you know what types of behaviors are considered to be discriminatory and inappropriate, you’ll be in a more empowered position at work.