Employers that want to eliminate their sexual harassment risk typically take a four-pronged approach:
- They develop and disseminate an anti-harassment policy.
- They establish a harassment reporting process.
- They take complaints seriously, promptly investigating any harassment reports.
- They provide employee training so everyone is clear about the policy and how to report problems.
Focus on Real Success
If your company can check the four boxes that I’ve just described, it would be easy to think you’ve done all there is to do. You’re off to a good start, but…
Before you spend too much time patting yourself on the back, I’d be interested in your answers to these three questions:
- What impact are your prevention measures having on the amount of sexual harassment that happens within your workplace?
- What percentage of people who experience sexual harassment at work report the behavior through your system?
- How do people who report sexual harassment feel they have been treated?
Straight-forward enough questions, wouldn’t you say? If you’re feeling a little unsure of the answers, you are not alone.
Checking the Compliance Box
In their quest to comply with the law, employers focus too heavily on doing the basic stuff and don’t focus enough on determining whether it makes any difference.
If your company is like others, it may not be working. Here are two startling findings from the June 2016 Report of the Co-Chairs of the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.
They should be easy to remember because they share a common number: 75 percent.
- 75 percent of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported.
- 75 percent of people who reported sexual harassment experienced retaliation.
One might conclude these two stats are directly related.
Set Meaningful Goals
Employers that are serious about maintaining a harassment-free workplace will treat it like other important business objectives.
It starts with having meaningful goals. You could have some process goals such as:
- Employees know the definition of sexual harassment.
- Employees understand that harassment will not be tolerated.
- Employees know their options for reporting concerns.
- Managers know what they are supposed to do if they learn of sexual harassment.
These are useful goals and likely why you have a harassment policy and do harassment prevention training, but they aren’t enough.
It’s time to set some outcome goals, such as:
- Anyone who has experienced harassing behavior, reports it.
- Employees who do report harassment feel like they were treated in a manner that was respectful and fair.
- No one experiences harassment on the job.
- The ultimate goal would be that employees treat each other with kindness and respect.
You can likely identify others. Make sure they represent what you really want to achieve. You’ll also help yourself if you make them specific and measurable.
Measure Your System
Once you have the goals, measure how you are doing. The EEOC’s Select Task Force found very little data to help them understand the current situation. If employers are doing this sort of measurement, they aren’t sharing the results. Perhaps they should. It could be used to establish benchmarks.
Your measurements may not be perfect, but I’m certain you can devise a way to get a sense of how well you are meeting your goals and what kind of progress you are making over time.
You need a baseline and it should be the number of complaints you receive and what the number does over time.
If your employees currently don’t feel comfortable using your reporting system, more complaints in the near-term should be viewed as a positive sign that your improvements are working. It wouldn’t be until after you’ve met your goals about employees reporting harassment that you’d want to see the complaint number start to decline.
Conduct Anonymous Surveys
To find out what’s really going on, you’ll need to use anonymous surveys. Here are some of the questions you might want to ask:
- In the past year have you experienced any harassment at work?
- In the past year have you witnessed any harassment at work?
For affirmative responses on either question, follow up with:
- What did you experience or witness? You want to know what the specific problems are.
- Did you report what you experienced or witnessed? You want employees to speak up. If they did not report the behavior, ask them why not. You need to know what barriers exist.
Evaluate the Experience
Your employees’ trust in your prevention efforts will largely be a result of what they hear about the experiences others had when they made a complaint. Was it efficient, respectful, and fair? Did they experience any retaliation?
This information will be harder to get because you won’t be able to make it anonymous. Instead, you might consider doing a debrief with each of the parties at the end of an investigation.
Even though the process will likely be stress-inducing for everyone involved, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make it a better experience. Ask them about their expectations and the degree to which they were met. Ask them for suggestions about how to make the experience better.
Far too often these efforts end once a chart has been created from the data. The point of collecting the data should be to help you identify where you need to put your attention. It may also give you clues about what specific improvements to make.
Strengthen Your Anti-Harassment Efforts
Between the EEOC’s findings and what we see in the news, it would appear employers can do a much better job than they are currently doing.
Perfection may be elusive; but setting goals, measuring results, and developing improvement plans is the best way to move in a positive direction.