Most workers feel disempowered to speak out against gender discrimination
- Half of respondents in a Randstad US study admitted they did not take action after witnessing a colleague make an inappropriate comment to a person of the opposite sex, according to a press release emailed to HR Dive. Slightly more than half said they know a woman who was been sexually assaulted at work, and 24% of women said they believe their careers suffered because they refused romantic attention from a direct supervisor. More than a third of respondents said they've seen someone in a powerful position take advantage of subordinates of the opposite sex. Overall, women and men who belong to racial and ethnic minorities face more gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace, the report found.
- Other key findings focused on pay; 36% of men said they believe women shouldn't get equal pay if they receive more time off for family leave. Almost two-thirds of female respondents said they'd leave their job over pay inequality, but 71% said they didn't care if they earn less than men "as long as they personally feel they're fairly compensated," the study said.
- Survey results indicate that most employees aren't sure how to address sexism in the workplace; 53% said they don't know what they can do personally to improve gender equality at work. Three-quarters of respondents said a workplace featuring men who will speak out about gender inequality will create a more equal workplace.
The Randstad study confirms what other research has found. A Fairygodboss survey revealed that 57% of women saw little progress in eliminating sexual harassment at their companies, despite the rallying cry of the #MeToo movement. A more recent study showed that most workers won't tolerate inaction by employers toward sexual misconduct.
Ambivalence toward sexual harassment and pay disparity carries grave consequences for the workplace. With about half of workers reporting that they've witnessed misconduct but remained silent, it follows that inappropriate behavior will persist and may become grounds for toxic company culture. When complaints turn into lawsuits, plaintiffs can face a long and stressful process and employers can sometimes shoulder bills for huge payouts in settlement costs and reparations.
HR has a responsibility to respond to all complaints; as such, it behooves HR to encourage workers to report misconduct, develop a safe and confidential reporting process, provide managers and workers with sexual harassment training, draft and enforce anti-discrimination policies in accordance with the law, and build and maintain a culture of respect and civility.
Employees who recognize pay disparities but don't stand up for fairness may set back progress in this area for future generations of workers. In the meantime, HR leaders can review their organizations' compensation policies, flag disparities, hold period audits and use compensation reports to ensure that pay levels are competitive.