In what is emerging as one of the biggest media revelations this summer, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. Following the announcement, several current and former employees, men and women, spoke out in support of Ailes. Whether it’s a carefully crafted PR campaign or honest reflections of their own positive working relationships, it’s important to remember that a handful or even hundreds of “good” stories do not negate another’s negative, or abusive experiences.
Supporting, defensive narratives from like these often feed public suspicions that when allegations of sexual harassment are accompanied by a lawsuit, it’s about money and not justice. It also highlights a crucial aspect of workplace cultures that help perpetuate pervasive, inappropriate behavior: the pressure to stay silent.
Earlier today, Carlson released a short video on Twitter about forcing lawsuits filed by employees into arbitration, where the dispute is privately settled. But it’s a process that works fairly only when both parties come to the table with equal resources. President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order includes a provision that would allow workplace discrimination or abuse claims to be settled by arbitration only if both parties agree to it after the dispute arises. When the details remain secret, it works to keep the stories—and potential warnings for employees—untold.
None of us can speak to the veracity of the allegations against Ailes, but what we do know is that despite some progress, sexual harassment in the workplace continues and at alarming rates. As does the pressure to not report it, to brush it off, to pretend it isn’t serious. That pressure can be external—from HR policies that don’t make it easy to come forward--or internal, such as their own fears about career retribution.
- 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual harassment [Source]
- Men file 17.5% of sexual harassment charges [Source]
- 71% of respondents of a 2015 Cosmpolitan survey did not report the sexual harassment they experience [Source]
How does this change?
It starts by increasing the awareness and understand of what sexual harassment is. Many don’t know how to define it, or only recognize aggressive, physical contact as harassment. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment claims are made not only by the severity of the sexual act but the pervasiveness of the less severe acts. The latter is what we talk about when we talk about culture and environments that can breed this type of behavior. Not acting against it is a type of acceptance.
It starts by reviewing current policies about how employers address sexual harassment claims internally. Do policies focus more on employer liability or provide a human-focused response?
It starts by bringing issues like sexual harassment into a national presidential debate about the issues that disproportionately affect women so we can evaluate the best policies to solve them.
And it starts today by encouraging all men and women to come forward with their stories of harassment with #IWasHarassed. We’ve started using that hashtag on Twitter. Join us?
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