It’s been almost three years since the height of momentum around the #MeToo movement. We saw women come together in shared experiences, realizing that they are not alone, and empowered to speak up and share about their own difficult experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond. We saw some of the most famous and prolific men finally held accountable as it seemed we were beginning to believe and support the voices and stories of those who had been kept quiet for so long.
In 2018, I created The Shift Work Shop, with the mission to completely eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace. I believe we all have the right to a safe workplace, free from harassment and from the distractions of sex at work. Inspired Peter Drucker’s adage, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” I set out to uncover a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of current training and prevention programs, as well as an understanding of relationships in the workplace in an effort to uncover shifts since #MeToo. My background is in strategy (research, analysis, and insight development), which led me to publish a formal data-driven study: 2020 Sex (and Sexual Harassment) in the Workplace study.
Here’s what I found: In the time since #MeToo’s media moment, (only!) six states have adopted mandatory training requirements for employers, and yet, the effects have been minor in helping to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace. Despite these legal mandates, only 46% of respondents said they received sexual harassment prevention training in the last 12 months. Of those, existing training resources did not prove effective in preventing harassment, and only 44% actually believed training to be effective in prevention. Many noted that the sentiment toward prevention training made them feel overwhelmed and ambivalent toward current methods, with many noting that training is a ‘total joke.’
Perhaps even more troubling, we found that 58% surveyed have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace, with gender-based discrimination, hostile work environment, and unwelcome sexual advances being the most common. It is the company’s responsibility to create a safe and fair workplace, free from harassment, and 42% of respondents believe that the company should be doing more to prevent harassment. It was also found that 28% signified that sexual harassment is a current problem with their employer.
The good news is that we are seeing higher effectiveness and adoption of practices with legal mandates. For example, in New York state, 46% believe training is very or somewhat effective versus 32% for states with no legal mandates. While legal requirements may be helpful, passive ‘click-thru’ training programs historically aim to protect the company, and not the people. Prevention programs often lack the nuance of human relationships, an understanding of power dynamics, and the development of tangible skills required to actively cultivate cultures that collectively prevent harassment of all forms.
Our society has a critical opportunity to cultivate a consent-forward culture, and employers are met with the responsibility to understand the nuances of human relationships and power dynamics at work to integrate such a culture:
- Mutual Respect – In a company of mutual respect, peers look out for one another, and value the input of each and every individual as an integral part of the collective experience. Mutual respect gives time for people to share and voice concerns in a safe way, while others are able to deeply listen and offer support. A culture of mutual respect understands that we are all in this together, and together it is our responsibility to create safer workplaces for all.
- Honest Communication – We’ve all heard it before, “the truth hurts,” but there is power in vulnerability and honest communication. When we are empowered to speak from a place of honesty, we can authentically show up and voice both concerns and praises for each other, the company, or the world at large. When this is shared in love, there is power in the truth, and in that truth, the possibility of transformation.
- Willing Accountability – When harm of some kind occurs in the workplace, this can only be resolved with willing accountability. This is the desire to hold personal responsibility for behavior and growth in the workplace. This crucial element ensures that we can be human in our interactions, and create space for learning from mistakes and returning to a state of mutual respect.
The concept of willing accountability is done through love. When we are able to speak up authentically and honestly about mistakes, transgressions, or express when something makes us feel a bit uncomfortable, we do so in love, and in service of each other and the organization. Through mutual respect we build personal agency and the ability for each individual to speak up and be heard in the moment – all while respecting the humanity of us all.
In service of a direct call to action to create new solutions, we must continue to work toward creating a more equitable future, where we can earnestly and collectively build the future we envision. What we are doing is not working, and unfortunately, it’s not as simple as weeding out a few bad apples. This is cultural and systemic and can only be solved from the inside out and from the top down. Isn’t it time we tried something new?
Amanda Rue is the CEO & Founder of The Shift Work Shop, a human-resource consultancy offering consent-forward sexual harassment prevention and training. The full 2020 Sex (and Sexual Harassment) in the Workplace Study can be found at www.TheShiftWorkShop.com.