- In light of the results of a sexual harassment survey, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has said it will expand its educational offerings to accommodate requests for in-person trainings. These trainings will be in addition to the already-required online training for employees and incoming students.
- The 2019 Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct was sent to 33 U.S. colleges and universities, including MIT. According to the results, 1 in 9 MIT students experienced nonconsensual sexual contact and 1 in 6 experienced sexual harassment.
- In addition to the required training, MIT said it will implement a new policy for reporting complaints of sexual misconduct against faculty and staff; open a central office for responding to discrimination complaints; and work to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.
MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart said the following in a statement announcing the changes: "A colleague said to me recently that 'a community’s culture is defined by the behaviors the community tolerates.'" Experts say that employers looking to reduce (or, ideally, eliminate) harassment and bias in the workplace must focus on creating a culture intolerant of these behaviors rather than merely responding to incidents in isolation.
While HR alone cannot change an organization's culture, it can be instrumental in creating and enforcing appropriate policies, holding wrongdoers accountable, providing appropriate training and promptly investigating all complaints. (Importantly, trust in HR rises when complaints are reported and investigated.) HR also can work to demonstrate to senior management that abusive behaviors have steep human and financial costs.
Employees, too, must feel empowered and encouraged to report wrongdoing, whether they are victims or bystanders. Research has found that workplace bullying negatively affects bystanders as well as victims, and bystanders who fail to report bullying reinforce the aggressive behavior. Julie Stickney, vice president, human resources for Cobham, previously told HR Dive that leaders who walk around the workplace and are visible make employees feel more comfortable about coming to them with problems. An open-door policy, similarly, can also be an effective strategy.
Managers may be the true linchpin when it comes to creating a positive workplace culture as they are the ones on the front lines. Employees are more likely to report misconduct to their managers than to HR, so those managers must be properly trained on how to receive and escalate complaints.