We are living in a watershed moment of history. Ever since the first articles in the New Yorker and the New York Times broke the scandal of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged pattern of sexual harassment, every week there seem to be new allegations of other abuses by powerful men in every industry. More astonishing still is how many of these accused men are stepping down or being terminated by their employers. Even a couple of years ago, such widespread accountability would have seemed unthinkable, but now workplaces are openly reckoning with what was long suspected but never said: sexual harassment is a pervasive problem in our society.
Recent surveys paint a bleak picture: as many as 30 percent of Canadian employees (and 50 percent of women) have experienced sexual harassment at work, but only about 28 percent of victims ever report the harassment. More troubling still, 94 percent of executives believe that sexual harassment is not a problem in their workplaces. It is inescapably obvious that most of these executives are wrong—perhaps even all of them. After all, 30 percent admitted to hearing about sexual harassment in their organizations. One possible explanation is that these executives work in places stifling under a culture of silence; they don’t know sexual harassment is a problem in their workplace because nobody is willing to tell them.
This self-censorship by employees (or worse, active silencing by employers) is dangerous to organizations of any size. Often the problem only becomes obvious in hindsight, when some disastrous scandal erupts into the spotlight to irreparably damage the company and its brand, ruin the professional reputations of any employees found to be complicit, and reveal the horrific damage once kept out of sight. Fixing this culture of silence is essential if companies are to eliminate sexual harassment from their ranks and gain employee trust in management and the organization, but what can any of us really do?
Download our FREE Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Guide, which outlines some of the essential steps organizations can take to undo the damage of silence and build an open and supportive company culture.
Global News: "Breaking the silence."
Vancouver Sun: "Half of Canadian women experience workplace sexual harassment."
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