February 13, 2018

Workplace Sexual Harassment: More Than Compliance

sexual harassment-free workplace

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released its 2017 numbers—last year saw a total of nearly 27,000 harassment allegations. 9,614 sexual harassment allegations were filed between the offices of the EEOC and FEPA, which does not include the many who do not report.

For those who experience sexual harassment, the toll is heavy, unjust, and often devastating. And harassment does not happen in a vacuum. The organization absorbs the aftershock of such actions as well.

The question employers continue to ask is, “What can be done to prevent this?”

Re-Frame the Issue

Tackling sexual harassment in the workplace requires more than slapping this year’s Federal Labor Law poster on the wall in the break room to stay in compliance. An effective solution requires an accurate understanding of the problem.

When sexual harassment is conceptualized as solely an issue of compliance, workplaces will continue to limit their solutions to those that are compliance-focused. Compliance is only one piece of the puzzle to address sexual harassment, which must also be understood as an issue of workplace culture.

Understand Workplace Culture

Every workplace has culture. Culture is the inevitable development of group norms, rules for acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and unspoken expectations. And while the company’s vision statement looks good on paper, culture will find itself shaped more by what is allowed to happen than the ideals listed in the handbook.

  • Are women expected to put up with “harmless” verbal harassment because “boys will be boys?”
  • Are men dismissed when they report a woman’s unwanted sexual comments because “he should be flattered anyway?”
  • Do employees take the “I didn’t see anything” approach when witnessing a fleeting moment of harassment?

The unspoken dynamics of a work environment have great potential to foster productivity and healthy working relationships; they also have the same capacity to become an employer’s greatest liability and an employee’s worst nightmare.

A reliable way to get an accurate temperature of a workplace is not by the content of the company’s annual training retreat, but by uncovering the unspoken norms that govern the daily behaviors of employee interactions.

So how does an organization ensure the unspoken norms of their company culture stay consistent with the high expectations of a harassment-free work environment?

The EEOC’s New Approach to Prevention

The essentials of harassment prevention are policies, reporting mechanism, and training material. To complement the essentials, the EEOC announced the launch of their Respectful Workplaces training program in October of 2017.

The new program focuses on equipping employees and managers with a holistic approach that complements current efforts; training in emotional intelligence, coaching strategies, and active intervention plans are just a few facets of the strategy. Each element points back to the overall goal of the program—respect in the workplace.

There may not be a compliance regulation that requires a certain level of respect in the workplace, but this approach is necessary nonetheless. An effective strategy includes a marriage of compliance and prevention.

Compliance vs. Prevention

All compliance is prevention, but not all prevention is compliance.

Compliance says that every employee must be made aware of the reporting mechanisms available to them.

Prevention says employees understand what sexual harassment looks like in the moment and have a pre-planned strategy for how to intervene.

Compliance says all employees must complete education and awareness training every year.

Prevention says workplace leaders actively shape workplace culture to be conducive to respect and intolerant to harassment.

No workplace will see the elimination of sexual harassment overnight–getting from point A to point B can seem overwhelming. Thankfully, reaching goals are the simple accumulation of consistent, daily steps.

Do you have the basic compliance and prevention essentials?

Let in2vate take care of the essentials so you can get started on the next steps to a better workplace.