Workplace Sexual Harassment
In 2017, a New York Times story by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey brought what was something of an open secret in Hollywood whisper networks out into the light: producer Harvey Weinstein was responsible for countless acts of sexual misconduct against a veritable who’s who of well-known actresses and other entertainment industry hopefuls over a period of decades. It wasn’t the first time a powerful, influential man had been accused of using his professional position to take advantage of women, but something unusual happened in this case. Instead of remaining merely a story about a single predator, the #MeToo movement transformed the conversation surrounding the Weinstein case into a larger discussion of the treatment of women in the workplace and everyday life.
Now, over five years later, the fallout from Weinstein’s actions continues. Expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he was convicted of rape and sexual assault charges in New York in 2020, for which he is serving a 23-year jail term. Recently he was convicted of three additional charges of rape and sexual assault in Los Angeles, which could add as much as 18 more years to his time behind bars.
Tellingly, the strategy his defense used in his New York and Los Angeles trials points to the challenge that conscientious employers face in attempting to ensure the safety of their employees. Weinstein’s attorneys maintained that the acts he committed were consensual, part of a transactional “casting couch” culture. They painted Weinstein’s accusers as women wanting to get ahead in Hollywood by any means necessary. In fact, the perception in the industry that such things were ordinary, if distasteful, part of business culture undoubtedly kept not only the victims but also those who had knowledge of Mr. Weinstein’s pattern of behavior from speaking up until years after the crimes were committed.
Sexual harassment isn’t an issue confined to the entertainment industry. An October 2022 report by The Society for Human Resources Management showed that 53% of respondents to a recent survey had experienced sexual harassment in the previous year. This shows that the problem isn’t just one of the rare bad actors taking egregious advantage of their position, but a systemic issue that can crop up anywhere. So how does a company change its culture?
It Starts with Training
The first step to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is clearly setting expectations for appropriate conduct across your organization. This starts with effective sexual harassment prevention training that ensures everyone in the organization understands both workplace policy and the law. Ideally, training should be tailored to your industry and your individual company so that information and examples are relevant and engaging; boring or bare-bones training is a missed opportunity to foster understanding.
Just as importantly, however, companies need to back up the policy with systems for reporting and investigating allegations of misconduct. Companies can’t solve problems they aren’t aware of—when employees can safely report what they’ve witnessed, businesses have an opportunity to look into and address incidents of harassment before harm has spiralled out of control. Holding perpetrators accountable also demonstrates that employers are serious about their code of conduct, building trust in the workforce. An increasing number of high-tech solutions, such as apps that allow employees to use mobile devices to submit reports on the spot, as well as dashboards that help organize and prioritize information to facilitate the timely investigation, are allowing even small businesses to respond quickly and effectively to incidents of harassment.
Effective, Engaging Training
For companies that want to reap the benefits of a workplace where everyone feels safe and valued, sexual harassment training that goes beyond the statutory minimum is a critical foundation for building a culture of respect. Bridge Training Consultants offers engaging, interactive training either in-person or remotely that is understandable and entertaining, so employees learn and retain important information. With both English- and Spanish-speaking trainers, we ensure everyone in your bilingual workforce is covered. To find out more about how Bridge Training can help your business get your sexual harassment prevention program right, contact us here today.