Is Harassment Finally Getting The Attention It Deserves? Part II

February 2017…women marched in over 600 cities totaling approximate 4.2 million. It was arguably the largest demonstration in American history. Signs and banners read:

  • “Keep Your Little Hands OFF Our Rights.”
  • “Men of Quality Don’t Fear Equality.”
  • “I Will NOT Go quietly back to the 1950s”
  • “Super Callow Fragile Ego, Trump You Are Atrocious”

At least initially, the protests appeared to be triggered by the actions and statements made by Donald Trump during the campaign. Certainly, this played an important role. But it would be naïve and misguided to lay complete responsibility on President Trump as the sole reason for the protests. Private industry was also in the headlines in September 2016 as news host Gretchen Carlson settled one of the largest sexual harassment cases in US history for $20 million.

Since my last blog on sexual harassment—posted in December—the landscape on women’s rights has dramatically changed. I’ve not witnessed as much related activity since Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill in 1991.

So, were the women’s marches about harassment? You bet they were. But the marches were also about something more—something that you (our clients) should be aware of.

A lot of people are feeling harassed and it’s increasingly not just gender specific. The view of harassment has increasingly broadened to include race and same gender. Actually, any protected class is protected from harassment which means that actionable cases can stem from harassment/discrimination due to age, race, national origin, pregnancy, disability, religion, gender. Increasingly, your training classes will be labeled harassment prevention training instead of just sexual harassment prevention.

Accordingly, EEOC harassment claims in including sexual harassment, account for only about 30% of the claims nowadays. Race is actually the most frequent basis of harassment charges and sex-based harassment is the second most frequent. Last year, the EEOC had over 6,800 charges alleging sex-based harassment. That can include unwelcome advances or it can include gender-based harassment, which might be comments that are demeaning to a particular gender. Interestingly, about 17% of charges are filed by men, so it’s not an issue that only faces women. There have also been an increasing number of same-sex harassment cases. In the case of [EEOC v. Boh Bros. Constr. Co. LLC], a supervisor sexually harassed a subordinate because he thought this male subordinate was feminine and didn’t conform to the gender stereotype of a rough iron worker.

The EEOC is certainly aware that the charges that are filed are just the tip of the iceberg because so many women are afraid to come forward. About 25% of women say they’ve experienced harassment at work, but among that percentage, 70% said they never reported it. We have seen in many of our cases that people experience retaliation for coming forward. Because that’s a significant issue for many workers, that’s an issue where the EEOC has gotten involved.

So why did so many women protest recently? My opinion is because they (and other groups) are fed up! Fed up with a national culture (including workplace) that doesn’t support nor seem to care about their current experience. Obviously, racial minorities and even more men are feeling similarly. A blog by Dr. Zakiya Luna, Alex Kulick, and Anna Chatillon-Reed titled Why Did Millions March? A View from the Many Women’s Marches, should shed more specific light on the varied reasons for the protests as their survey research comes in.

So, what is the message to you? If we get back to square one, it is this: Leaders set the tone, period. For sure this means avoiding a behavioral display of harassment. But it also means having your finger on the pulse of the work atmosphere. What are the relationships between executives and managers? Managers and supervisors? Supervisors and front line employees? Forget what your mission statement says. What is really valued in your organization? Is it task accomplishment over everything else? Is profitability the master of all? Does technical expertise and industry knowledge supersede coaching and mentoring? Is prejudice, bias, and favoritism a common thread? Do supervisors and managers really listen and observe and come to the support of people who don’t feel they have a voice? Is everyone valued for their talents?

I will be addressing these questions and will also go into an in-depth discussion of harassment, including sexual harassment, gender and racial discrimination in a webinar on April 14. If you can’t make the Webinar, please send me an email and I will forward a link to the presentation.

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