Despite a newfound openness to speaking out in the media, women in the workplace continue to keep quiet about the sexual harassment they experience or witness.
The below infographic from talent management platform HiBob, based on a widespread 2016 survey, shows that 79% of UK women who experienced unwanted sexual advances did not report it to their employers. A BBC survey last year revealed similar numbers, with 63% of women and 79% of male victims not reporting harassment in the workplace.
So why aren’t people reporting the harassment that’s taking place where they work?
Fear of Retaliation
A widespread US study showed that 75% of women who speak up against sexual harassment experience some form of retaliation in the workplace – either socially and/or professionally. The infographic highlights and expands on this, showing that over half of women who did report unwanted sexual behavior viewed the response of their employer to be unsatisfactory. There is a strong connection between this drastically high percentage and the fact that the vast majority of victims do not report incidents. There’s a persistent fear that colleagues will not believe their claims, or that they may even lose their jobs if they file a complaint. For many women, these potential retaliatory tactics are daunting enough to prevent them from seeking a just resolution.
Lack of Clear Reporting Channels
From small businesses to large corporations, women do not know where to turn. A lack of clear reporting channels, policies, and processes to deal with sexual harassment are all barriers for victims looking to speak up. Shocking but true, 67% of victims are unaware of the policies that are in a place where they work. And half of these victims are unsure which department or individual to contact. For those willing to speak up despite the fear of retaliation, not knowing who the appropriate person to speak to is another contributor to factor to 79% of women not reporting harassment.
The Cost of Sexual Harassment
Aside from the emotional cost of sexual harassment, it also costs businesses millions. From legal fees to settlements, businesses are having to pay out large sums of money for workplace sexual harassment cases. This cost also extends to employees, as an environment made hostile by harassment can reduce productivity and cause irreparable harm to a company’s reputation. In a talent-centered economy, businesses with a negative reputation for sexual harassment will lose out on the talent they need to drive the company forward. In the long run, companies, as well as harassment victims, pay a high price.
What Can Businesses Do?
HR departments and CEOs alike are not powerless. They can change this reality by taking certain steps to cultivate a workplace that’s based on zero tolerance for harassment, encouraging transparency, and treating all employees with respect. To ensure the safety and well-being of their employees, maintain a strong brand image, and save money, businesses should follow these guidelines:
- Create clear workplace policies that all employees are distinctly aware of. Each company has its own internal mechanisms that lay out the rules and structure for employees. But these zero-tolerance policies and guidelines to sexual harassment must be publicized, through all official channels. This will ensure that all employees know where to turn should they need to. And the message will be clear: the company you work for cares about your wellbeing and security.
- Provide a clear means of communication in a safe and secure setting. Technology can play a critical part in enabling victims to speak up in the workplace. This can be done by providing secure encrypted channels for communication. Businesses can implement these technologies along with highlighting exactly who is responsible for dealing with sexual harassment claims. By doing so, victims of harassment will have a clear channel through which to communicate and receive advice.
- Entrench zero-tolerance in company culture and values. Providing mechanisms for reporting harassment is of vital importance. But preventing harassment from occurring is of equal priority. Although harder to measure, building a company culture that emphasizes respect and openness among employees can ensure that inappropriate behavior is spotted quickly, and dealt with comprehensively.
About the author: Ronni Zehavi is the CEO and Co-Founder of HiBob. He’s an entrepreneur with a demonstrated history of working the SaaS industry.