Sexual harassment: where there’s smoke there’s usually fire

It’s an unfortunate fact in our industry that people (mostly women) still regularly deal with harassment and assault in the workplace. Not only is this tragic for the individuals involved, but it is also driving talented women away from what is often a male-dominated tech and startup culture.

Adding to the problem is that the victims often become the accused, and find themselves under scrutiny. But as this interesting study demonstrates, false allegations are rare. In an analysis of ten years of reported cases, the results indicate that the prevalence of false allegations is between 2 and 10 percent. In other words, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire—90 percent or more of the time.

So how do we address this? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of employers provide sexual harassment training and 98% of companies have sexual harassment policies. However, this enlightening article, Why We Fail to Report Sexual Harassment, by Stefanie K. Johnson, Jessica Kirk and Ksenia Keplinger, found that current policies may not be all that effective.

An astounding 75% of the women interviewed for this article said they had been sexually harassed at work, and very few of them spoke up about it. A 2015 survey showed that 71% of women do not report sexual harassment, and even fewer bystanders report harassment that they have witnessed.

Johnson, Kirk and Keplinger explain that research shows it can be difficult to speak up about sexual harassment for many reasons, including fear of retaliation, a masculine workplace culture and the bystander effect, which says that we are less likely to help a victim when others are also present. The article also offers some concrete ways that organizations can be proactive in dealing with sexual harassment:

  • Businesses can offer bystander training, clarifying what people should do if they observe or are informed about sexual harassment.
  • Organizations need clear HR systems through which individuals can report observations and experiences of sexual harassment.
  • All complaints should be kept confidential, and there should be processes in place to reduce risks of retaliation or gossip.
  • Organizations should also have clear definitions of what constitutes harassment, a clear process for how victims and viewers of harassment should respond to and report harassment, as well as a plan for how HR should handle the process and what disciplinary measures should be followed.

When it comes to sexual harassment – where there’s smoke, there’s probably fire.  Be prepared.

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