During September, Change Recruitment hosted our quarterly breakfast seminars in partnership with MacRoberts law firm. The following is based on discussion at the event of the #MeToo Movement and how employers can address sexual harassment in the workplace.
On October 15th 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano tweeted #MeToo to demonstrate the number of women (and men) impacted by sexual abuse. Little did she nor the world realise just how widespread sexual abuse had become. The idea was simple, women who had been sexually abused were to retweet the hashtag.
Within the space of 24 hours, #MeToo was retweeted more than 500,000 times on Twitter and over 12 million times on Facebook. Facebook reported that within the USA, where the movement started, over 45% of people know at least one person that used the hashtag.
As sexual abuse victims rarely report their experiences, this figure is probably quite low. RAINN, the USA’s largest anti-sexual violence organisation, reports that only 310 cases of rape are reported to the police with even smaller numbers of conviction. As such, it’s likely that the #MeToo Movement only skims the surface of the true number of women impacted by sexual abuse.
While the #MeToo Movement is infamously connected with the allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the movement revealed that sexual abuse is prevalent within every industry from academia to politics. As a result of the #MeToo movement, BBC conducted a survey which showed that 50% of British women had experienced sexual harassment at work.
How to Prevent Sexual Harassment
Regardless of industry, employers need to seriously consider and assess any risks within their workplace and take actions to prevent sexual abuse. Failure to take preventative actions could leave employers vulnerable to legal claims.
Address Problems Early
It’s important to address any problematic behaviour as early as possible. Often, this boils down to changing and challenging the “boy’s club” mentality. Workplaces, especially male-dominated ones, can foster a culture of inappropriate behaviour that’s passed off as a “joke” or just “having a laugh”. However, employers need to discourage such comments and actions by promoting a workplace that’s supportive of a diverse workforce whether in regards to gender, race, disability, etc.
Changing a workplace culture can sometimes be easier said than done. Most HR professionals and managers often rely on training to solve workplace dilemmas. Whether this approach is effective is still up for debate. Some workplaces use training as a check-box exercise and assume that this is all that’s required to solve the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, which certainly won’t bring about the desired changes.
However, training does provide employees with an education about the type of comments and actions that are appropriate and those that are not. It also ensures that employees can’t hide behind the classic excuse of “I didn’t know…”
Culture of Reporting
A survey conducted by BBC revealed that despite 50% of women experiencing sexual harassment at work, 63% didn’t report the incident. Reporting sexual harassment could lead to further harassment from coworkers, isolation, or even dismissal. Whatever the reason, employers need to encourage a culture where women feel comfortable reporting incidents of sexual abuse.
There are many solutions, both innovative and unimaginative, available to employers. One of the most common methods is by introducing corporate policies that protect whistleblowers and provides them with some anonymity while more innovative approaches include independent whistleblowing phone lines – a solution already used by some blue-chip companies. Another creative solution is Talk to Spot an app platform helps employees document incidents which can be then shown to managers.
When victims do step forward, they need to be respected and protected from any backlash. Employers should ensure that all interactions with the perpetrator stop and the victim gets support to deal with any impacts. While most cases settle outside of court with the victim signing a non-disclosure agreement in return for monetary compensation, this approach may not be the most ethical as it leaves future employees vulnerable to the same risk.
Instead, employers need to take responsibility for protecting employees from sexual harassment by supporting the victim through any legal procedures and dismissing the perpetrator.
Find out More
Learn more about employment law by attending our next breakfast seminar. Hosted in conjunction with MacRoberts Law Firm, our workshops will help you stay up-to-date on the latest case laws and development within the recruitment industry. Check our events page for details on upcoming breakfast seminars and other events.