2018 should be the ‘#youtoo’ year — to change workplace culture

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Two weeks ago the Boston Globe released a disturbing article that detailed complaints from past and current employees of Bristol-based ESPN. The reports of harassment and discrimination of women by men at ESPN mirror the accounts that emerged in the entertainment, media, and tech industries as well as those in the halls of Congress, and state houses throughout the country.

As the scope of the #metoo movement makes clear, employee complaints at ESPN do not stand alone and training for managers is not enough. Real leadership is needed to re-examine and change the workplace culture and conversation, and good business owners, boards, and CEOs need not wait to take action.

Earlier this month, we gathered colleagues, both victim advocates, attorneys, and trainers in this field, to examine the key findings and recommendations from the report of the co-chairs of the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.

Beyond the news reports, we know sexual harassment cuts across every industry. The report found a wide range of prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace, impacting 25 to 85 percent of women. Forty percent of women experience unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, even if they don’t label it as “sexual harassment,” and 60 percent of women experience unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, or sexually crude conduct or sexist comments in the workplace.

Additionally the report shows that upwards of 85 percent of people who experience workplace harassment never file a formal legal charge and approximately 70 percent of employees never complain internally. Employees choose not to report for good reason.

The fears that stop most employees from reporting harassment are well-founded. One 2003 study found that 75 percent of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.

Several of these findings are echoed in the recent local story of a former Hartford City Council aide who did not report sexual harassment and discrimination, “…because of the significant power imbalance between us. [She] did not believe Human Resources would provide a viable solution because of the politically charged nature of our positions.”

According to our own Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, only 145 cases of sexual harassment were filed this year.

There is a compelling business case for prevention given the direct and indirect costs to employers, and while there is broad agreement that safe workplaces are a win-win for Connecticut employers and our valuable workers, they cannot be built without leadership and accountability.

It is time to rethink our harassment policies and practices and employ new strategies to protect the most vulnerable workers, give victims safe reporting options and empower all employees to create respectful work environments.

This week Gov. Dannel Malloy stepped forward and called for our state agencies to assess its harassment policies and training practices and to make recommendations for improvements. This is the type of leadership that is needed now. We encourage the legislative and judicial branches to do the same.

Company culture and the prevention of sexual harassment goes beyond training. Since 1993, Connecticut companies of 50 or more employees are required to train supervisors within six months of assuming their position. The training is currently required for supervisors only a single time. Not only should this training be more frequent and expanded to move beyond compliance to focus on climate and culture, but it should be expanded to include employees as well.

Employers can prevent harassment by including civility and bystander intervention as a part of training efforts. As bystanders, employees can be empowered to help create a respectful and inclusive workplace by learning the skills to intervene or challenge the inappropriate behaviors that lead to harassment and discrimination.

Additional tools for employers include the use of climate surveys, the ongoing assessment of reporting mechanisms and consistent policies, and new measures to hold managers and supervisors accountable for preventing and responding to harassment.

If 2017 was the #metoo moment, 2018 needs to be the #youtoo moment in which the actions for change move beyond the powerful victim stories and to what is needed from our workplace and community leaders to bring lasting cultural change.

Laura Cordes is Executive Director of the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Kate C. Farrar is Executive Director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF).


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