Remember Anita Hill? She is the attorney and academic who, in 1991, became a public figure when she accused Clarence Thomas, the then-Supreme Court nominee, of sexual harassment when he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and–wait for the irony–at the EEOC! Since those hearings, there have been seismic changes for women in the workplace, but many of the underlying fundamentals remain the same. So here we are again asking: What can be done? Do we really want to know the answers?
Every day since the Harvey Weinstein debacle hit the air waves–or at least every week–it seems that new allegations emerge against someone in the public sphere. An atmosphere in which scores of emboldened women tweeted “#MeToo,” and victims felt newly empowered to come forward, is starting to slip backward with public attention shifting away from harassers’ behavior, accountability, and consequences to past attitudes and historic failures to respond effectively. Do we suffer from compassion fatigue when forced to confront the sheer number of victims? The victim-blaming and focus on whether the various accusers are worthy of belief is exhausting. What’s a weary–and wary–employer to do? And, If not now, when? Employers cannot afford the luxury of tuning out. Now is the time to take proactive steps to develop a robust plan to (1) prevent sexual harassment; (2) identify best practices for investigating claims of sexual harassment; and (3) demonstrate consistent accountability.
If you are an employer, with or without human resources professionals, do yourself a favor–practice prevention and consult with an employment law expert BEFORE you have a sexual harassment complaint or claim. (Preventative Law, Take Five)
In the meantime, while sexual harassment is on everyone’s minds-and it’s the water-cooler topic du jour-take a moment to ask yourself: Is the conversation going on in our workplace likely to encourage or discourage victims to come forward? Are the conversations we’re having ramping up victims’ fear of disbelief, inaction, blame, or social or professional retaliation? The conversations going on in your workplace should convey that your business has: (1) committed and engaged leadership; (2) consistent and demonstrated accountability; (3) strong and comprehensive harassment policies; (4) trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and (5) regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization. According to the EEOC, these are the five core principles in a harassment prevention program. Employers ignore them at their peril.