Many Women Can’t Speak Out Against Workplace Harassment Without Their Employers’ Support

At the Sundance Film Festival last weekend, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg praised the #MeToo movement, our current pivotal cultural moment illuminating sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace.  Besides bringing down powerful men in different spheres of society, #MeToo is empowering women to share their stories of violation and injustice.

And a recent Takeaway-Harris poll confirms this. More and more people (62 percent) are now comfortable speaking out and confronting their abusers. A far cry from how things were in Ginsburg’s day.

“For so long women were silent, thinking there’s nothing you can do about it,” she said, as she recounted her own personal experience with sexual harassment as a student at Cornell University in the 1950s. Back then, sexual harassment didn’t have a name, she says, and it was often dismissed as boys being boys. “I think it’s about time,” she added.

But even with all the change afoot, when digging deeper into those poll numbers, a different story unfolds.

Of the women who said they were comfortable speaking out, only 20 percent (see chart below) felt that way because they believe their companies will listen and be supportive. Simply put, when it comes to harassment or assault, many people don’t feel like their companies, employers or HR departments will stand by them.

“The workplace should’ve been the first line of defense, but it’s not,” says John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll. “I think that’s really interesting. That, in essence, there’s this sort of a failure of the workplace, of corporate America, to confront and deal with these issues, whether it’s in Hollywood or somewhere else.”

About 64 percent of people from the poll believe that cultural attitudes are changing. And that could partly be attributed to younger generations.

“Millennial women are far less tolerant of sexual harassment than are millennial men,” Dr. Denise Cummin, a cognitive scientist, author, and elected fellow at the Association for Psychological Science told The Takeaway. “They are also far less tolerant than any other generation. What we’re seeing is a rise of millennial women.

“Baby Boomers and Gen-X worked very hard to put in place laws and workplace rules to protect women from sexual harassment, and what we’re seeing is that millennial women are flexing their muscles, and making use of these laws.”

However, tackling workplace harassment will require more than just depending on the legal system. On The Takeaway, Maya Raghu, director of workplace equality and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, offered these three tips to victims of workplace harassment:

  1. Learn to identify it

Have a clear understanding of how sexual harassment is defined and remember that under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act employers can’t discriminate against you based on your age, race, religion, national origin or sex.

  1. Learn to report it

Before reporting, document all instances of harassment, know what you want in the end; discuss with friends, family and trusted co-workers and know your employer’s policies around workplace harassment.

  1. Know your rights

Research the sexual harassment laws in your company and if your boss is unhelpful, seek help from state or local workplace protection agencies.