What we learned about sexual harassment after 100+ hours of interviews
There are moments in your life when a particular news breaks out and you remember exactly where you were, how you felt, and how it changed you.
I remember reading Susan Fowler’s blog post about Uber clearly. I was on my way to lunch when my friend (now co-creator) Tammy sent me the link to read. What I expected to be a quick read turned out to be a disappointing and infuriating series of paragraphs.
Tammy and I discussed this at length the next day. How frustrated we were. How it’s 2017 and we’re still talking about harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Then we slowly opened up about our own experiences facing sexual harassment, discrimination, racism, and everything in between. It was a conversation that made us ask, “Why don’t good solutions to sexual harassment already exist?”
Research shows that 1 in 3 women are sexually harassed in the workplace and 71% of them don’t report it. We reached out to our respective network of friends to see if we could verify this astounding statistic on our own (we encourage you to do the same). Surely this stat was too high!, we thought. To our dismay, our friends, family, and co-workers have all either gone through harassment themselves or know of someone that has. Our hearts sank. It’s hard to hear that something like this could happen so frequently.
That’s when our journey started to see if we could understand the complexity of sexual harassment and why it’s still not addressed today. During these last few months, we talked to hundreds of people (including, but not limited to targets of harassment, Human Resource departments, founders, investors, and employment lawyers) to understand the full landscape of harassment.
Introducing Our Guide For Targets
We teamed up with our friend, Annie, and an employment lawyer, Devin Coyle, to translate these findings into a simple, but comprehensive guide on what to do if you experience sexual harassment at work.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through:
- the most common reasons why people don’t report,
- what you should do before reporting an incident to HR,
- why you should loop in employment lawyers ASAP,
- And free resources for you to use moments after you experience harassment.
What We Learned in Our Interviews
#1 — Most people don’t know what to do when they are the target or witness of sexual harassment.
When you’re sick, most people know you’re supposed to go see a doctor. When it comes to sexual harassment, however, the first step is not so clear to the vast majority of people we interviewed. The moments after being sexually harassed are confusing and overwhelming, and there’s alarmingly little reliable information available online to help.
#2 — HR is not always your friend.
This was one of the biggest takeaways from our personal interviews as well as the high-profile cases. A common theme we’ve seen has been the inability of HR (and the wider company) to provide swift and appropriate remedies to harassment cases. This is especially true when the harasser is a powerful executive or a high-performer — these cases often get swept under the rug.
Keep in mind — one of HR’s primary roles is to help the company mitigate lawsuits and keep the company compliant with the law. To help with this, many companies consult legal counsel about what actions to take.
This means that, if you are a target or witness of harassment, it is likely not in your best interest to go immediately to HR first. It sounds contrary to what we are often told when we are onboarded as a new employee, but you should also take steps to empower yourself with similar resources and protect yourself in the case that HR mishandles your sexual harassment report. One of the best options is to…
#3 — Take advantage of free consultations from employment lawyers
Most people get scared or confused when they hear the word “lawyer.” Aren’t they expensive? Are they going to force me to sue my company? No, actually. We spoke with dozens of employment lawyers and found out that many offer free initial consultations, where they will take the time to hear your story. They’ll even provide you with actionable next steps regardless of whether you decide to work with them or not. The best part is that most lawyers charge on a contingency basis, meaning they will only charge you if there is a settlement or win.
#4 — Document everything.
Keep a written record of all interactions you have with the harasser. Always include the date and as much detail as you can. Physical evidence is hard to refute, such as screenshots or emails. We observed that, in these particularly stressful situations, people tend to forget to create evidence (circumstantial evidence, too!) that could be used in the future.
#5 — Retaliation is illegal.
We found that one of the biggest fears around reporting sexual harassment is fear of retaliation from your harasser, coworkers, or company. Fortunately, it is absolutely illegal for anyone in your company to retaliate against you for speaking up. Retaliation can take shape as anything from suddenly lowering your performance reviews or threatening to blacklist you from future jobs.
What You Can Do Right Now
If you’ve experience harassment or have witnessed it…
Read our guide at betterbrave.org.
If you’re an ally and want to combat harassment with us…
Please share our guide with your friends and colleagues. We’d like to spread this knowledge with everyone!
Although the recent news about sexual harassment has been heartbreaking, we’re more optimistic than ever. Thanks to the brave women who spoke up, we’re seeing more and more conversations shift to focusing on what we can do to address this problem.
BetterBrave is starting with this resource guide, but we know that there is still much more work to do. So let’s get to work!
A Huge Thank You
Thank you to all those who contributed to the creation of BetterBrave:
- The brave women who spoke up and brought this issue to light
- Women and men who shared their stories with us
- Local employment lawyers who helped fact-check our guide
- Fellow founders, mentors and advisors who believed in us
- Friends and family for cheering us on