Roadblocks to Preventing Sexual Harassment
The next step towards ending sexual harassment involves identifying current roadblocks: What’s getting in the way of solving the issue of sexual harassment and how do we address it?
Roadblock #1: Fear
Even after #metoo, a majority of sexual harassment cases still go unreported as victims and witnesses fear they will face retaliation should they speak up.
Victims Fear Retaliation
It was found that the #1 reason victims don’t take action when they’ve been sexually harassed is that because they fear they’ll lose their job or their income/tips. Other reasons include worrying:
- no one will believe them
- nothing will happen if they do file a report
- they’ll be blamed
- they’ll face social retaliation (humiliation and ostracism)
- they’ll face professional retaliation (damage to career and/or reputation)
Bystanders Fear Responsibility
A bystander is someone who witnesses another person being sexually harassed, knows it’s wrong, yet does not take action. In addition to fear of retaliation, a bystander’s lack of initiative may spur from two other reasons:
- diffusion of responsibility (assuming someone else observing the situation will take action
- lack of social influence (believing that, since no one else who observed has done anything, perhaps intervening isn’t the correct behavior)
Roadblock #2: Poor Policy
Until recent years, many companies still adhered to sexual harassment policies written in the 1980’s. While states like New York, California, Connecticut and a few others now mandate stringent training requirements, most states continue to leave decisions concerning sexual harassment in the hands of employers. Of course, this only exacerbates the inconsistency, as beliefs about what constitutes sexual harassment vary from person to person. Despite a unifying theme of “zero-tolerance,” without state or federal policies to guide them, many organizations fail to define what behaviors are prohibited and how sexual harassment prevention rules will be enforced. Finally, there’s the issue of ineffective company policy around handling sexual harassment complaints. Confusing filing processes and other bureaucratic hoops can lead to employees feeling like they’d rather endure or ignore the harassing behavior than go through the grueling process and paperwork of filing an official claim.
Roadblock #3: Costs and Logistics
While there’s been a lot of progress in recent years addressing “zero-tolerance” at all levels, leadership is still faced with a quandary: Taking all employees, including senior level and above, off the job for 1-2 hours of training (in some states, every year) poses a huge cost and logistical issue to the company. That being said, culture change starts at the top; so the question for today’s leaders becomes: how do we make sure our training is effective and impactful enough to make up for this opportunity cost? Additionally, the cost of NOT training employees can lead to millions of dollars in legal expenses, higher employee turnover, increased absences, decreased engagement, and reduced overall productivity.
Roadblock #4: Sexual Harassment Training Doesn’t Change Behavior
It’s no wonder sexual harassment training has yielded a bad rap—it hasn’t been effective (for the most part). Most training programs in circulation do nothing to engage employees or push for behavior change. Instead, the focus is on minimizing legal implications and making sure companies don’t get sued for failing to deploy sexual harassment training. Below are the most common reasons employees “tune out:”
- Videos tend to be boring and full of legalese
- Examples are dated, cheesy, or unrelatable
- Instruction isn’t practical or easy to apply
Additionally, once training is deployed, there is often little to no follow-up and no link to the greater mission of building a workplace where everyone feels safe and respected.
Roadblock #5: Employee Resistance to Training
A Media Partners survey of nearly 150 customers found that the #1 challenge faced with Sexual Harassment Training was “Employees don’t want to take the training.” In addition to the reasons already listed, employee resistance may also have something to do with their current outlook on the issue. Perhaps it’s the fact that the topic of sexual harassment still holds a social taboo, or that employees have a cynical outlook on whether or not anything will actually change. In either case, it’s imperative organizations work to change the perception around sexual harassment prevention training so it’s seen, not as the company’s way of “paying lip service” to the issue, but as an ongoing, top-down organizational commitment to ending inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment in all its forms. Additionally, organizations should strive to instill confidence within employees that the right steps will be taken should sexual harassment prevent itself.