Our Anonymous Harassment Problem
So much of our focus over the last year has been on sexual harassment. Weinstein, Uber, Lauer. So many names. So much focus on relationships between men and women.
We can keep working on sexual harassment issues, but one of my concerns is that lost in the glare of the spotlight on sexual harassment is a focus on preventing harassment of all kinds.
We have an anonymous harassment problem. Harassment based on race, national origin, disability, color, age, sexual orientation and gender identity, religion, all of these types of harassment are just as illegal. More importantly, all of these types of harassment cause just as much disruption in the workforce. So why are they overlooked?
I am not sure we know the precise answer yet, but some of it may have to do with two things: 1. #MeToo became our intense focus only after some very high profile and often well respected people took up the cause and championed it, thus allowing intense media focus. When the cause was trending, high profile people were accused, and organizations took swift action. Thus fed the media frenzy over the next big news story and the next high profile case. So to an extent, it took powerful allies bringing the issue to the forefront, and media hype to keep it there. Have we seen the powerful allies willing to stand up and talk about, highlight, and pledge to combat these other types of workplace harassment?
2. Much of what we know about sexual harassment, its causes, its consequences, comes from research studies that have focused almost exclusively on that type of harassment. The focus has been on gender issues for decades now, and that is what our collective consciousness focuses upon when we hear the word harassment. Most harassment training focuses almost exclusively on gender issues. Most books written about harassment focus on sexual harassment. That is what we know. We don't seem to even think about or study issues relating to other types of harassment.
I would suggest that there is another reason why these other types of harassment are not often our focus. While we know that very few people subjected to sexual harassment raise a formal complaint (6-13% depending upon the survey) I would wager a guess that even fewer incidents of other types of harassment are reported. The reasons why victims do not report sexual harassment are many. There is a disparity of power, they fear not being believed or understood, they fear retaliation. I suspect that if we devote time and effort to studying other types of harassment, we would find that those psychological reasons for not coming forward are enhanced in many situations involving race, color, national origin, etc. harassment. We also do not know how many times a complaint has been lodged, but ignored, and the victims simply tolerate the harassment.
Harassment because of these other protected classes is just as harmful to the respectful workplace. We need to dedicate resources to:
1. Training the workforce on what harassment in these areas looks like, and the harm it causes.
2. Devoting time to diversity and inclusion initiatives.
3. Devoting resources to training human resources personnel to spot and resolve issues with such harassment in the workplace.
4. Allowing researchers to study the causes and consequences of these types of harassment, so we can learn as much about these issues as we know about sexual harassment.
5. Spending time on leadership and cultural issues around these types of harassment.
Do we have a problem? The only way to find out is to ask, and be ready for the answer.