Every day the headlines reveal another scandal, as yet another brave woman shares her story and detailing male behaviors – including sexual abuse, predatory behavior or inappropriate sexual contact – that have typically gone unpunished. As women stand up in numbers, and people pay attention, it becomes impossible for their alleged harassers to brush them off as hysterical females or to hide themselves under the cover of blame-the-victim strategies.
There seems to be safety in numbers and women are feeling emboldened by the actions of others to step up and say, “me too” and to share their stories. Many high-profile men facing sexual misconduct allegations right now aren’t denying them. The allegations aren’t limited to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, or the hallowed halls of Congress, the problem is far more wide-reaching than one man, or even one industry. This has impacted women in every industry and every walk of life, and is finally experiencing the spotlight of public attention and, more importantly, action, it deserves.
During an interview to promote her return to television, Ann Curry, former co-host of the “Today Show” told PEOPLE Magazine that she admires the women who have been willing to speak up both anonymously and on the record. She feels they need to keep their jobs, and be able to work, to be able to thrive, without fear. “’The women’s movement got us into the workplace, but it didn’t make us safe once we got there.”
“And the battle lines are now clear. We need to move this revolution forward and make our workplaces safe,” she added. “Corporate America is quite clearly failing to do so, and unless it does something to change that, we need to keep doing more ourselves.”
Certainly safety is key. In a 2017 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) study, the agency found three-fourths of sexual harassment victims never report it. The EEOC also reports that up to 85 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and many men as well (as evidenced by recent accusations of opera conductor James Levine and actor Kevin Spacey). The EEOC defines harassment as. “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, when conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. ”
Fox News Anchor Gretchen Carlson, not only spoke out about sexual harassment on the job, she sued the network’s chairman Roger Ailes, and 21st Century Fox reportedly settled with her for $20 million. More women followed her lead and came forward at Fox News with allegations of their own. Clyde Haberman wrote in the New York Times that Carlson is, “Aware that sexual hostility on the job falls most heavily on women who are far less privileged than she or than many of the women in movies, television, high tech and other glamourous industries who also report being hounded by predatory bosses. Victims are more likely to be lower paid workers whose plight rarely makes headlines: waitresses and female bartenders who have to fend off employers and customers with hyperactive hands, or women just trying to get through the day unscathed in the male-dominated construction industry.”
So, the question is, “How can the everyday worker, or the single mother holding down one or two minimum wage jobs, fight back against abuse and harassment?” Tammy Cho and Grace Choi are tackling that issue head on with BetterBrave.com. After reading Susan Fowler’s blog post about Uber, the two women shared their frustration, and as Choi writes at Medium.com, “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?’”
The two women went on to talk 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. They then took their findings to a friend and an employment lawyer to translate their findings into a simple, but comprehensive guide on what to do if you experience sexual harassment at work. As a result, BetterBrave provides resources, tools, and employment lawyers to targets of harassment.
Eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace is, not only the right thing to do for a multitude of reasons, it also makes good business sense. According to the EEOC, when employers consider the costs of workplace harassment, they often focus on legal costs, and with good reason. Last year, EEOC alone recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment – and these direct costs are just the tip of the iceberg. Workplace harassment first and foremost comes at a steep cost to those who suffer it, as they experience mental, physical, and economic harm. Beyond that, workplace harassment affects all workers, and its true cost includes decreased productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm. All of this is a drag on performance – and the bottom-line.
“This kind of behavior exists across industries, and it is so long overdue for it to stop,” Curry says. “This is a moment when we all need to be a beacon of light for those women, for all women, and for ourselves.”
We couldn’t agree with her more. Sexual harassment is unacceptable at every level, and thankfully, as Melinda Gates writes in TIME, “2017 is proving to be a watershed moment for women in the workplace and beyond. Instead of being bullied into retreat or pressured into weary resignation, we are raising our voices—and raising them louder than ever before. What’s more, the world is finally listening.”
That’s one thing each of us can, and must, do every day. Listen to women and support them in their life journeys.