Brittany Rostron, who has worked in various behind-the-camera roles over a decade in Hollywood, shares her lessons on navigating the landmines of sexual harassment in a male-dominated industry. USA TODAY NETWORK
Reports of sexual harassment in churches, businesses, schools and governmental agencies continue to dominate headlines almost daily. No organization is immune.
The abuse has gone on for years, often unreported, and appears to be on the increase all over. There are many issues that need to be addressed and action taken to prosecute the offenders and take steps to prevent further occurrences.
Many managers, owners and supervisors have turned a blind eye and deaf ear to these atrocities. It must stop. No one, regardless of position, title, name, or influential contacts should affect the investigation and punishment of the guilty parties. Victims should be encouraged to report and assured of a prompt investigation and no retaliation.
Prevention begins with a zero tolerance policy endorsed and supported by top management. If people who are in senior level positions are abusers, it sets the stage for all down the food chain to think it is “OK behavior” for them, too.
Today, it is at an alarming scope and prevalence in workplaces, large and small. Hardly a day goes by without another revelation of this troubling, egregious workplace behavior. Often it is higher level managers and executives who are the perpetrators.
Much progress has been made to encourage victims to speak up, stand up and speak out, ensuring their voices are heard and the abuses dealt with firmly and promptly. Those in the C-suite must be the ones to lead the charge and drive change to remove this toxic behavior. It must start at the top and not be delegated for someone else to make the changes.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is the main federal law that prohibits sexual harassment. It is covered under the same law that prohibits gender discrimination. Each state also has its own anti-sexual harassment laws.
What is sexual harassment? It is any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. Any conduct that makes an employee uncomfortable has the potential to be sexual harassment. It can come from bosses, co-workers, vendors or customers. It can happen to anyone, male or female. However, the overwhelming number of offenses are by males to females.
There are strategies for prevention that when implemented will reduce the risks in the workplace. Some are:
Adopt a clear sexual harassment policy. Include it in your handbook and/or code of ethics and have employees sign agreeing to their understanding of the policy and the consequences of violating the policy.
Require training of all employees to teach what sexual harassment is and ensure the understanding of the procedures for reporting.
Require additional training for managers and supervisors at least annually in addition to employee sessions. Managers should be educated to recognize harassment and the process for proper handling of a complaint.
Closely monitor your workplace by interacting with employees on a regular basis. Ensure employees know how to report a violation. Assure them their complaint will be taken seriously and investigated promptly and thoroughly and that there will be no retaliation. Ensure the lines of communication are open.
Take all complaints seriously. Immediate action should be taken by investigating the complaint. If your business has a Human Resources Department, it should be involved from the first notification. It will handle the investigation as most managers and supervisors are not trained in the proper investigation techniques and follow up.
Examples of sexual harassment are:
- Offensive jokes
- Name calling
- Ridicule or mockery
- Physical assaults or threats
- Insults or put-downs
- Offensive objects or pictures
- Interference with work performance
These can take place in person or online by email or text messages. Most occurrences are when an employee is harassed by a higher-level supervisor or manager and the employee is fearful of losing his or her job.
A recent survey conducted by Career Builder among 809 workers across multiple industries found that more than 1 in 10 workers had experienced sexual harassment. and 72 percent of those employees said they did not report it. The good news is that 76 percent of the workers who did report it said the issue was resolved.
Employers are responsible for providing a workplace that is safe and secure, including prevention of any type of harassment. Companies that fail to contain this behavior pay a hefty price — in productivity, low morale and loss of good employees. Tolerating or overlooking harassment is also bad for business and creates unfavorable public relations.
The benefits of a harassment-free workplace are a harmonious work environment, reduced absenteeism, increase in productivity, an environment of trust, happier employees and a good reputation in the community.
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