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Ryan Golden: At times the realization an entire year has passed by can leave you shocked. You’re frozen for a moment, frantic as to why time moves so effortlessly. But this week, roughly a year since the publication of allegations that brought down filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, has not left that impression for survivors of sexual harassment and assault.
Kathryn Moody: I can say this about the past year: A lot of things happened, and they are all happening again, and I don't know how I feel about that.
Axios has a term for these revelations: the October surprises, happening annually since 2016 — the "Access Hollywood" tape, then The New York Times expose of Weinstein and then, this year, the discourse surrounding now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh. All of these events ignited discussion about what it means to be a woman in America — and since 2017, a great deal of that talk has focused on how women navigate the workplace.
Ryan Golden: The chances are that someone in your workforce has faced sexual harassment in the workplace, or knows someone who has. According to a two-year poll of women conducted in 2017 and 2018 by Fairygodboss, a site for women that provides company ratings and job listings, over one-third of respondents have been sexually harassed at work. More than half of women in both polls who answered in the affirmative said the perpetrator was a colleague.
Also, Fairygodboss' totals indicate that most (63%) didn't report what happened to them to managers, HR or law enforcement. When asked why, respondents cited a variety of reasons, including "fear of retribution" (33%), "reporting it doesn't result in any action" (35%), and "the harasser was my direct supervisor / manager" (27%). But by far, the most commonly cited reason at 52% of victims was "Didn't want to create a fuss / look like a troublemaker / get a bad reputation."
Kathryn Moody: In good news, a year of awareness has led to a shift in tone regarding how harassment is addressed. More companies are taking it seriously, and many have made public strides to improve their processes or proclaim their support for the under-supported. Historically maligned Uber announced it will no longer require drivers, riders or employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements over claims of sexual assault or harassment, for example. And CBS, which had its own sexual harassment and assault scandal concerning now ex-CEO Les Moonves, recently announced its intent to contribute $20 million to the fight against harassment and for equality in the workplace.
Ryan Golden: On top of all that, there's evidence that affected employees are increasingly willing to break their silence. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced a 50% year-over-year increase in court filings that dealt specifically with sexual harassment. Traffic to the agency's web pages on sexual harassment also increased.
State and local governments have also taken action. New York state is in the process of implementing new sexual harassment training guidelines. Others, like Pennsylvania, have seen legislators put forward bills that would end sexual misconduct non-disclosure agreements, which have become a hotly contested issue in employment.
Kathryn Moody: But what's the opposite of a silver lining? Whatever it is, we've found a few. According to some reports, the much-needed discourse around harassment could lead to further isolation for women as senior male leaders pull away from key sponsorship and mentorship relationships out of fear of those relationships being misinterpreted as harassment.
It is, frankly, a frustrating Catch-22 for any young woman trying to find professional success at an organization and a foolish roadblock for employers wanting to diversify their leadership ranks.
It makes me SO ANGRY when I hear, "Well, I can't be alone with a woman." That's dumb, disrespectful & harmful to organizations. It should not be tolerated. #nextchat— Kate Bischoff (@k8bischHRLaw) October 10, 2018
The onus is on employers, somewhat. When men hold the irrational fear that women are looking for ways to accuse them of wrongdoing, employers need to step in and ensure that sexual harassment training addresses that fear, or the training will not reach the people it absolutely needs to reach the most.
Again, for the people in the back: the fear is harmful and it must be addressed through proper training.
Ryan Golden: There's also no sugar coating one very important point: Men need to be there to support their female co-workers — really, to support all of those who've faced harassment, assault and abuse.
Much has changed thanks to the actions and voices of women around the world An international dialogue has emerged, on and offline. Laws are being passed. Conversations are happening at the dinner table. But in the workplace, as in other areas of our lives, there's quite a bit of work left to be done. Which begs the question: Will HR lead the way?