What We Can All Do to Stop Workplace Sexual Harassment
If you’ve been following tech news at all recently, you’ve probably noticed a streak of high-profile sexual harassment cases coming to light. To be clear, the sexual harassment occurring is not new, but women in the tech community have (thankfully) been speaking up about it more often. It started with Susan Fowler’s bombshell article about Uber (which later led to CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation) and has recently come to a crescendo with Justin Caldbeck, Chris Sacca, and Dave McClure coming under fire for their bad behavior.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is one of those things that can feel so prevalent that we can hardly make a dent in it. But after supporting the team at BetterBrave over the last couple of months, I’m truly convinced we can. This week, BetterBrave launched its Guide for Targets of Sexual Harassment, which is a must-read if you’ve ever experienced or witnessed harassment in the workplace.
I’ve been fortunate to never have been a target, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what allies like me can do to combat harassment and make the workplace a safer environment for everyone. Here are three places we can start:
1. Understand the problem
First, we need to acknowledge that sexual harassment is an enormous problem, and understand what sexual harassment even means. According to multiple studies, the sad reality is that 1 in 3 women (ages 18–34) have experienced sexual harassment at work and 71% of incidents go unreported. Men experience harassment as well, but reporting is so uncommon that it’s hard to even find reliable stats.
Just pause and think about these numbers for a second — one in three. For many of us who haven’t experienced it, sexual harassment is a hard concept to grasp. It can feel like an outdated concept of the Mad Men days or the subject of cheesy HR training videos, but for way too many people, it means unwelcome advances from coworkers, repeated inappropriate jokes, or unwanted touching.
As allies, a common problem is that we don’t take this issue seriously enough. We might witness harassment in the office or our friends might come to us once they’ve been harassed, but too often we shrug it off and pretend it’s “normal.” We might tell targets they’re being too sensitive, or assume that they somehow invited the harassment upon themselves. Let’s put these myths to rest right now: harassment is a serious issue that not only causes psychological/emotional pain for targets but also creates an uncomfortable work environment for everyone.
Read this page in BetterBrave’s guide to familiarize yourself with what constitutes sexual harassment.
Additionally, the incredible Jonathan Howard wrote an article that discusses what men can do to support women in tech.
2. Help create a “new normal.”
One of the most stunning things I’ve learned from the BetterBrave team is how often the targets they interviewed initially thought the inappropriate behavior they experienced was “normal.”
We need to help create the “new normal” not only by being able to spot sexual harassment when it occurs, but by being careful not to talk others out of reporting their experiences. Too often, we default to lines of logic like, “if you report it, you might get fired” (even though retaliation by the employer is illegal) or “don’t make such a big deal out of it.”
Here’s the other thing: in the tech world echo chamber, these big harassment stories can seem earthshaking. But outside of the bubble, most people will have never heard of these incidents. Since sexual harassment is by no means limited to the tech world, we should be intentional about discussing the magnitude of this problem with our friends, our family, and our coworkers.
3. Share the solution
When the team at BetterBrave began to research what resources were available to targets of harassment, they were shocked to find that there wasn’t much — and what little did exist constituted some pretty bad advice.
They ended up conducting over 100 interviews with targets, HR teams, employment lawyers, witnesses, and more to understand the top misconceptions, and distilled their research into BetterBrave.com.
Here’s what gives me hope about their solution: it defines clearly what harassment is and isn’t, without all the confusing legal jargon. It provides you with a framework for documenting evidence the right way. And most critically, it acknowledges that HR is not always the employee’s friend, and encourages them to reach out to employment lawyers first instead for free advice.
To read about the BetterBrave team’s learnings from putting together the guide, check out their great blog post.
To support their work and spread the word, retweet to share the guide.
Now is the time for us to take a strong stand against sexual harassment. It’s one thing to gawk at all this nauseating news, but it’s more important that we as allies do our part to change workplace culture.
For more like this article, please visit my blog, www.jamesli.com.