Working women who have never been subject to some type of sexual harassment are the exception. Of course, degrees of sexual harassment vary, and there’s a huge difference between a colleague telling a woman she’s attractive and actual pressure for sex.
Some women may shrug off the former, but the latter isn’t an issue to ignore. Still, the majority of women don’t report even the most outrageous forms of sexual harassment to their company’s human resources department.
Reasons vary, but it’s almost always a mistake for a female employee to handle the situation on her own.
What We Know
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published the conclusions of its Select Task Force on Harassment in the Workplace in June 2016. Findings include that approximately 75 percent of women harassed in the workplace do not report the incidents. The study found that most women experiencing workplace harassment did the following:
- Avoid the harassing individual or individuals – 33 to 75 percent
- Deny the gravity of the situation – 54 to 73 percent
- Ignore or put up with the behavior – 44 to 70 percent.
The least likely response was taking formal action, whether in the form of a human resources or legal complaint. Why? Female employees thought management wouldn’t believe them or wouldn’t do anything, and would retaliate against them professionally.
What is Harassment?
One reason women don’t report harassment is because it isn’t always clear exactly what it constitutes. Comments about a woman’s body or pressure for relations fall into the obvious category, but other issues may or may not cross the line into harassment.
The EEOC report defined sexual harassment as “unwelcome or offensive conduct” based on sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy. The second part of the definition is key. The behavior is “detrimental to the employee’s “work performance, professional advancement, and/or mental health.” Unwelcome touching and lewd remarks are far from the only instances of sexual harassment.
So are offensive jokes, name-calling, ridicule, undue attention and objectionable pictures or items. Here is where things get tricky: One person’s offhand remark is someone else’s verbal harassment.
The bottom line in most situations is that the behavior is considered harassment based on frequency and severity, and the creation of a hostile work environment.
A woman doesn’t have to be sexually propositioned or exploited to experience harassment. Overall gender harassment is pervasive in many cultures, including Silicon Valley.
Such behaviors demean women. Whether it’s telling jokes about women or stating they don’t belong in a particular job or in management, constant gender harassment creates that hostile work environment.
The EEOC report found that this was the most common type of sexual harassment, and it’s the rare woman who hasn’t experienced it in some fashion.
Her Word Against Theirs
Many instances of sexual harassment occur between just two people – the harasser and the harassed. Unless the harasser is foolish enough to send texts or emails stating his desires to the victim, it pretty much comes down to her word against his.
Unless the man is harassing other female coworkers – and it’s often a pattern – a woman may feel reporting him is a no-win situation. She reports, he denies, and she may still end up working with this guy. Only now he may want more than sex – he’s out for revenge.
The Executive Suite
Women in lower echelon positions in the workplace are not the only victims of sexual harassment. It continues into the executive suite. Gretchen Carlson made headlines in 2016 when she filed a sexual harassment suit against Fox News chairman Roger Ailes.
Other women working at Fox News, including star reporter Megan Kelly, came forward to say they had also been harassed. Other male executives and on-air personalities, including Bill O’Reilly, later settled lawsuits brought by female employees.
So, how did this behavior go on for so long?
Employees saw it as part of the corporate culture, or didn’t want to get involved, or didn’t want to harm their own careers. During all of this time, the company was raking in astonishing amounts of money. In fact, it wasn’t until Ailes fired Carlson that she filed suit. Sadly this is another reason women don’t report sexual harassment. Some people – male and female – will put up with a lot if the money is good.
Sexual harassment isn’t as common as it once was because it’s now illegal. However, it still exists and will continue to exist as long as men can get away with it.
For all the reasons women give themselves for not filing a report, one fact remains: The last thing a company wants is a sexual harassment lawsuit. It may cost them hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. There’s nothing like a good settlement to ensure a company’s compliance with sexual harassment laws.
If you have been subjected to improper sexual conduct at work or suffered retaliation for reporting such conduct, contact the sexual harassment lawyers at the Whistleblower Law Group today. We can be reached by phone at 888.249.6944, by email at [hidden email].