- As the #MeToo movement gained traction and one high-profile sexual harassment case after another went public, workplaces came under pressure to act quickly and deliberately to prevent more of the same. But only 32% of U.S. workers say their employer has taken new steps to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace since those events, according to the American Physiological Association's 2018 Work and Well-being Survey. The step employers took most often was simply to remind employees that sexual harassment training or resources were available, according to 18% of respondents in the online survey
- Only 10% of respondents said their employer added more sexual harassment training or resources since the movement took hold, and just 8% said their employer adopted a more stringent sexual harassment policy. Only 7% reported that their employer held a town hall or all-staff meeting to talk about sexual harassment.
- In organizations that acted to address and prevent sexual misconduct, survey respondents were more likely to say that their psychological health was good, that their employer provides the necessary resources to help them manage their stress and that they're satisfied with their jobs. Also, in organizations where women hold senior management positions, respondents said they were more likely to report sexual harassment at work.
Given the media attention on high-profile sexual misconduct allegations and the discussions on the problem's pervasiveness in the workplace, the assumption was that more employers would step up their efforts to follow up on claims, investigate them and double down on enforcing sexual harassment policies. And some are, but if nothing else, these most recent survey results may indicate a disconnect between employers' actions and employees' perceptions.
In several of these high-profile cases, HR departments came under fire for ignoring complaints or standing by silently as senior-level executives, politicians and celebrities hid their alleged misconduct behind nondisclosure agreements or arbitration clauses in sexual harassment cases. Unresponsive HR managers risk losing credibility and clout by failing to lead their organizations' anti-sexual harassment efforts.
The positive outcomes that occur when employers address and work to prevent sexual harassment and in organizations where women hold senior-level positions may be incentives for workplaces that haven't yet stepped up their efforts.
APA research has shown that training in recognizing and reporting sexual harassment, although boosted by the #MeToo movement, isn't enough to stop misconduct. Company cultures that condone or ignore inappropriate behavior are likely to sustain, if not encourage, sexual harassment. Psychologists recommend that employers adopt a comprehensive strategy to fight misconduct that includes leadership's support of a civil and respectful culture, clearly communicated policies, continuous training and the placement of women in high-level positions.