Why Sexual Harassment Often Goes Unreported

February 7, 2018

3 ways HR can strengthen harassment prevention efforts

 

Last year saw a whirlwind of scandal involving sexual harassment, beginning with shocking allegations about movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s treatment of female actresses in his employ, and revelations about “bro culture” at several large silicon valley tech firms. As allegations gained notoriety, many women from all walks of life began to step forward and say “me too.”

 

According to a poll conducted in October 2017 by Gallup, 69% of adults think workplace sexual harassment is a major problem. A significant majority of both women (73%) and men (66%) agreed. The spotlight is on sexual harassment and all employers should make efforts to tighten up policies and procedures around this important topic.

 

The sad facts: Many female employees have been harassed

One of the most difficult revelations during the recent emphasis on sexual harassment has been how many women have experienced it in the workplace. According to Gallup, 42% of women and 11% of men have been sexually harassed at work. Here is relationship of the harasser to the victim:

Source: CareerBuilder survey

 

Worse, most employees don’t report their harassment to employers

Amazingly, 72% of employees who are harassed don’t report it, according to a new survey by CareerBuilder. Of the minority who did report, over half went directly to the harasser’s manager, but only 39% reported the behavior to HR.

 

HR is the department tasked with ensuring the workforce is in compliance with sexual harassment training and laws. HR creates and maintains the reporting systems and company policies. It is surprising that more employees don’t involve HR of sexual harassment problems. What is going on?

 

According to the CareerBuilder survey, of the employees who are harassed but do not report it to HR or a manager:

  • 40% are afraid of being labeled a ‘trouble maker’
  • 18% fear they will lose their job outright
  • 22% don’t think they can prove harassment because it is their word against the harasser’s

 

The good news: Most employees give current employers good marks

Although sexual harassment seems to be a widespread and pervasive problem, most employees believe their current employers take it seriously. According to a survey conducted by NPR/NewsHour/PBS, 70% of employees believe their employers take sexual harassment “very seriously.” And 87% feel their current employer provides adequate protection against sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.

 

3 ways to improve your company’s sexual harassment prevention and reporting

  1. Clearly define sexual harassment in your company policy. Although most men and women agree sexual harassment is an issue in the workplace, surveys show they don’t always define it the same way. For example, an overwhelming majority of men and women agreed that unwanted touching would constitute harassment, but there was divergence between genders about whether sending sexually explicit texts and emails constitutes harassment. While 83% of women said yes, only 69% of men agreed, in a survey by Barna Group.
  2. Promote more women into key executive positions. Harassment flourishes in professionals and organizations where women hold few of the core jobs in management and men dominate the power structure, according to an article from SHRM and Harvard Business Review.
  3. Get the knowledge and training you need to conduct a harassment investigation before you have an active complaint before you. Let employees know that HR intends to take an active approach to investigating every instance of sexual harassment, and that the HR staff possesses the correct training and expertise to do so. SHRM has recently published recommendations for properly conducting a sexual harassment investigation.

The fact that employees believe their employers care about the important issue of sexual harassment signifies progress, but it is clear that more needs to be done to protect employees and encourage reporting of all sexual harassment to HR. Asure Software’s Human Resource Management solutions can help your organization track and report on important compliance activities such as sexual harassment training.