Most workplaces are made up of good people, wanting to work in an atmosphere of mutual respect, in support of organizational success. So why does sexual harassment nonetheless occur? What factors contribute to the likelihood of bad behavior? How can organizations equip their leaders and employees with the knowledge and tools needed to create a positive workplace culture?

These are the questions on a lot of people’s minds. Further, how can good hearted leaders recognize individual and organizational blind spots that can contribute to an unhealthy workplace environment? What do leaders need to know when it comes to sexual harassment?

The Extent of Sexual Harassment: 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) received 27,000 complaints of sexual harassment in 2016, accounting for roughly 30% of all discrimination complaints. These complaints came from all types of industries including government, medical, technical, law, financial, transportation, fitness, entertainment, media, politics, etc.; they came from all sizes of organizations and from every state; they included male, female and transgender victims.

Furthermore, according to the EEOC’s acting Chair Victoria Lipnic, only about 30% of victims who experience harassment ever complain internally and even fewer are likely to file a charge with the EEOC.

The Cost of Sexual Harassment:

The costs for the victims of sexual harassment can be physical and psychological as well as financial. Studies show many victims experience increased anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and a host of other physical issues. The organization is directly impacted as well. Many victims report leaving their positions for lower paying jobs just to get out of the situation. In fact, research by sociologist Heather McLaughlin and others, shows that 80% of people who’ve been harassed leave their jobs within two years.

What Organizations Can Do to Prevent Sexual Harassment:

There are many actions organizations can take to create a work environment that is respectful and inclusive; where harassment is not likely to occur. These actions include:

1. Develop, implement and practice a good anti-harassment policy. Make sure you have a complete sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure. Add examples of unacceptable behaviors and potential consequences. Ensure it is publicized and all employees have access to it.

2. Create a culture of mutual respect. Focus on creating an environment where people understand what’s acceptable because they see it modeled by all levels of leadership through language, behavior and daily interactions. Furthermore, create a sense of responsibility in all employees for a workplace free of harassment.

3. Never discount claims. Dismissing or discounting employee complaints will have a domino effect inside an organization because it inadvertently validates unacceptable behavior which permeates the organization’s culture. It also rewards and legitimizes bad behavior and can have a disastrous effect once exposed on the future sustainability of the company, or the reputation of the Agency.

4. Provide training to managers and employees. Review your current training on sexual harassment and the organization’s strategy for delivering this training. Be sure the training is up to date, contains the right information and activities to make it engaging and effective, and is delivered to every employee, including executive leadership. Also ensure the training and communication around harassment prevention is championed by leadership.