Groundbreaking Report Has Implications for Campus and Corporate Harassment Prevention

If you’re responsible for addressing workplace harassment and/or discrimination, or guiding your organization’s diversity, equity, or inclusion efforts, we’ve got a sizzler recommendation that absolutely MUST make it into your beach bag. It’s got drama, urgency, a compelling series of must-have insights and (for those ready to make the investment) the promise of a rewarding ending.

Ready for it?

It’s the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s newly-released publication, Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. This report, weighing in at a whopping 310 pages and over two years in the making, does focus its lens specifically on the academic work environments of the STEM fields, certainly, but the findings and recommendations from this report have important transferable lessons for the corporate workplace as well.

[Pro Tip: if you love a good read, but are short on time, Chapter 7 details the key takeaways from each chapter and provides a summary of the recommendations. At a slender nineteen pages, it’s easily consumed on the commute flight home or one treadmill session.]

Of the report’s fifteen recommendations, we’ll highlight four that are particularly important for corporate workplaces to consider adopting to move the needle on addressing these high-priority, and high-risk areas. The National Academies’ recommendations also align with the “promising practices for prevention” that the EEOC outlined in the co-chairs 2016 report from the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.

RECOMMENDATION 1: Create diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments.

As the report highlights, workplaces at risk for hostile climates share several qualities: “(a) male-dominated gender ratios and leadership and (b) an organizational climate that communicates tolerance of sexual harassment” (171). Too often within organizations, anti-discrimination and harassment efforts are siloed from diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Indeed, these two issues may even be forced to compete with each other for training resources, which is the corporate equivalent of trying to row a boat with one oar: you work twice as hard to paddle in circles.

As the 2016 EEOC report reminds us, “leadership means ensuring that anti-harassment efforts are given the necessary time and resources to be effective.” Executives that are serious about strengthening their organization’s culture of respect (and as a pretty great side-effect, its productivity and profitability) invest in training that tackles these issues intersectionally, because increasing organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion is essential to combating harassment and discrimination. Training should include not only role-specific anti-harassment training, but also training on engaging respectfully with diverse colleagues, and comprehensive training on managing biases that can impact the hiring, retention, and promotion of a diverse workforce.

RECOMMENDATION 3: Move beyond legal compliance to address culture and climate.

It sounds like good, common sense to most chief diversity officers and human resource pros, no doubt: “treat the legal obligations for addressing sexual harassment . . . law as a floor, not a ceiling” when it comes to preventing harassment and discrimination (93). Simply informing employees about policies and regulations is an important step; this measure alone, however, is not effective in achieving positive changes in how employees treat each other and the expectations they set and reinforce with their colleagues.

What does work? Providing bystander intervention training to employees has significant promise for increasing the likelihood that employees will step in when they see unethical, discriminatory, or harmful behavior in the workplace, and that they will also support their colleagues who take action. And, bystander intervention training may also increase the likelihood that unethical and illegal behavior will be reported to the organization. As the report authors note, “[s]kills-based training that centers on bystander intervention promotes a culture of support, not one of silence” (176). Increasing reporting allows organizations to take action and address the problem.

RECOMMENDATION 8: Measure progress.

As one of the participants in EVERFI’s recent Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable noted, “if it’s important, you track it.” Collecting data on your harassment and discrimination prevention efforts is the best way to know the impact you’re having, and to give you insights to guide your future efforts in a targeted and intentional way. This data must go beyond measuring completion rates or even knowledge gain to actually assess attitudes and behaviors. And why is this? Unfortunately, simply knowing what is right and wrong doesn’t reliably steer our actions towards the positive.

As both this publication and the 2016 EEOC report note, there has often been a reluctance in the corporate sphere to gather data about workplace climate issues or the effectiveness of harassment training provided over concerns that it could create legal liabilities. When done well, however, data on training effectiveness and information on your specific work climate will give you insights on the true prevalence and nature of sexual harassment, whether employees feel these issues are taken seriously, and how confident they are to intervene effectively. These insights can power effective ongoing organizational prevention efforts and demonstrate an investment in making positive change.

RECOMMENDATION 15: Make the entire community responsible for reducing and preventing sexual harassment.

There is no doubt that transforming workplace cultures requires visible, authentic, and frequent leadership commitment that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated, and that the organization is committed to ensuring that everyone feels they are respected and treated fairly. But, it is also clear that while leadership starts at the top, education and training needs to reach from the C-suite to the shop floor; every employee must play a role in ending harassment and discrimination to achieve the workplace transformation that is urgently needed. And this means that organizations must prepare employees for their role by providing training, as a part of their entrance to the organization and on a regular, or even annual, basis. And, this training should allow for customizations, engage employees with a range of learning styles, and iterate annually to address evolving needs and keep learners engaged.

Ultimately, what the report notes about sexual harassment is true for all forms of harassment and discrimination; it’s corrosive influence “not only affect the targets of harassment but also bystanders, coworkers, workgroups, and entire organizations.” Now is the time to take action to maximize your harassment and discrimination prevention efforts for a high-impact third and fourth quarter this year.