I was once harassed at work. Well, I've been harassed more than once, but the time I'm referring to in particular happened many years ago. I was slapped on the behind by a male co-worker. I was shocked and embarrassed. Had it not been for the support and encouragement of another male co-worker, I probably wouldn't have said anything. Fortunately, I did report it to the manager, and thanks to strong policies at the company, it was handled appropriately and it never happened again. That is how it should be. It is not how it always is.
I don't need to belabor the statistics about workplace harassment, partly because there is a lot of question about whether or not they are accurate. I've seen reporting that seventy-five percent of women are harassed at work. I've seen other reporting that indicated it's more like one-third. For something so serious, we don't have a very good handle on the actual problem. One piece of evidence we can point to, however, is the pervasiveness of the latest social media trend on the topic, #metoo. I, myself, shared my own post about it this morning to join the conversation. The hashtag has been shared millions of times. Clearly, there is an issue here.
I've written previously that HR has shared in the blame of why the problem is not understood clearly enough, nor is it properly addressed. Indeed, there's plenty of blame to go around, so I'd like to share my prescription for what we can all do, right this very moment, to begin to move this conversation forward.
1. Recognize the problem for what it is. This is, without question, a significant and overwhelming problem for women in the workplace, but I see plenty of pushback that "not all men" engage in this type of behavior. Unquestionably! There are plenty of great men in the world that wouldn't harass women. However, the direct harassment is only a portion of the problem, and that has resulted in the birth of the #nowallmen campaign. Men, we are asking you to be our allies. If you see harassing behavior, be a support. The man who supported me when I was harassed was like a port in a storm to me. My harassment felt isolating and humiliating, and knowing that there was someone on my side to support me gave me the courage I needed to report. Additionally, if you see toxic behavior toward women, that is often the first step toward harassment. Don't engage in it, and if you can, discourage it.
2. Know that harassment affects everyone, even beyond the target of the harassment. When one person is harassed, it sets of a chain reaction that touches so many people. In the work environment, the people around the target of the harassment often are made to feel uncomfortable. Indeed, as I've said countless times in harassment trainings, there is rarely ever one target of harassment. If someone is bold or ignorant enough to harass one person, they're probably harassing someone else also. Anything you do to curtail one person's harassment is probably a relief to a few others, too.
3. Report! This is the hardest, but most important, thing I can advise someone to do. If you are harassed, nothing can be done about it without your report. If you witness it, your report could make a big difference. Remember, good faith reporting is a protected activity, so if you, in your heart of hearts, suspect harassment, make that report. If you are an employer, take every report seriously. If you fail to uncover harassment, but do uncover a toxic environment, you are still saving yourself a major headache by addressing the problem. So often, because it is difficult to come forward, a report of harassment may be difficult to hear. It may sound like the person is beating around the bush, trying not to make trouble. Ask probing questions, take a genuine interest in your team. They are worth it.
4. Remember, men can be harassed, too. Harassment and assault is almost always about power and toxicity, and men are not immune to this. In fact, because of the emasculating nature of harassment, it can be even harder for men to come forward. Allies, this is where you can be a support as well. Be a good listener, support your friends and colleagues, and call out bullying, toxicity and negativity when you see it. You can be powerful with just a few words.
Now I'd like to hear from you. What have you thought about the #metoo campaign? How are you getting involved? Leave your comments and thoughts below.