Ask employers how they’re doing on sexual harassment in the workplace and most will say pretty well. Employees have a different take.
Nearly 70 percent of leaders “strongly agree” that their workplace “does not tolerate harassment.” Fewer than half of workers outside of leadership roles say the same, finds a survey of 1,000 U.S. working adults. One in four said they saw or heard of an incident in the last year.
“There is a disconnect,” said Shahed Larson, a partner at the Brunswick Group, the public relations firm that fielded the survey.
#MeToo brought unprecedented awareness to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in workplaces. Hundreds of men (and a few women) across industries have faced allegations of harassment in the last year. High-profile companies dealt with PR crises and many perpetrators lost their jobs.
Organizations that have so far avoided a public scandal may think they’re in the clear. The majority of women recently surveyed by FairyGodBoss, a job review site geared toward women, said they don’t think the #MeToo movement has changed their workplace. Sixty percent say their company hasn’t enacted any updated or new policies since #MeToo.
“If you have not undergone a crisis, no level of noise will make you feel differently about your organization,” said Larson. “You may think you’re immune.”
Data suggest otherwise. More than half of those surveyed by the Brunswick Group believe sexual harassment and assault happen across corporate America. One-third believe it’s “happening all the time.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported a 12 percent increase in harassment filings from the year before.
Still, three out of four executives surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management said they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their organizations’ efforts to keep the workplace free of sexual harassment.
There are reasons for the disconnect, says Larson. For one, sexual harassment often goes unreported. FairyGodBoss found that 63 percent of women surveyed didn’t report their harassment to a manager, human resources or law enforcement. Victims fear retaliation or not being believed; they don’t trust HR. The Brunswick Group survey found that over 60 percent of those who experienced harassment believe that HR ultimately represents the company, not the best interests of employees.
“Victims feel hard-pressed to come forward,” said Georgene Huang, the founder and CEO of FairyGodBoss. “It’s still incredibly difficult.”
Employees also may not be aware what their companies’ policies or procedures entail. A third of those surveyed by FairyGodBoss said they weren’t sure whether their employers had enacted or updated their policies in the wake of #MeToo.
Companies can do simple things to better communicate their policies and improve their environment. Almost 90 percent of employees say they want to hear from their CEOs about “respect in the workplace,” according to the Brunswick Group survey, but less than a third say they’ve heard their CEO speak on the topic.
“Safety and respect in the workplace has not always been a pillar of executive narrative,” said Larson. “It has to be championed by the CEO. If he’s not making it a priority the rest of management won’t care either.”
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