Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment Is Real

  • When a rainmaker can’t help touching your thigh under the table at meetings.
  • When a colleague regularly shares fantasies about sex with you. 
  • When your client promises more work if you’ll just send a few nudes.
  • When your boss shows up at your hotel room in a bathrobe every night of the sales meeting. 
  • When a coworker never misses an opportunity for a lewd joke or sexual innuendo.

The wave of #MeToo declarations that is dominating the news and taking down powerful leaders from many industries has exposed workplace sexual harassment that before now has often been ignored, condoned, and hidden. The sheer volume of stories suggests that both employers and employees have much to learn about how to create a more inclusive culture that opposes and prevents this behavior.

Sexual harassment at work is exacerbated by imbalances in power inherent in most workplace relationships. When their harassers have the power to undermine their job and career by firing, demoting, or blacklisting them, withdrawing financial or other support for projects, or revoking opportunities, victims may feel reluctant or unable to speak up in the moment or afterward. Fear, shame, and self-doubt combine to further silence victims.

Victims and Companies Can Suffer Long-Lasting Consequences

Victims of harassment can suffer many emotional and physical effects including depression, anxiety, and loss of self-esteem and sleep. Because of this many victims may choose to quit their job or industry all together, leading to negative effects on their careers and wages.

In addition to the pain and suffering experienced by victims, sexual harassment at work costs employers in many ways that can be hard to quantify. Increased absenteeism and job turnover of talented staff are concrete effects. Less measurable but certainly still substantial is the decreased group work productivity and lowered employee engagement that may result from an atmosphere where harassment is not contained.

Sexual harassment can also have legal repercussions for employers who may be held liable for allowing the sexual harassment to persist. 

Catalyst Can Help Employers Accelerate Change

Companies need much more than basic policies and training to change behaviors and create a safe environment for all employees. An inclusive workplace built on mutual respect among leaders and employees will not allow behavior that demeans, diminishes, or endangers any employee for any reason. Leaders at the very top of the organization must act as role models, committed to fairness, gender equality, and inclusive leadership in firm and visible ways. HR and business leaders also need to communicate goals and expectations for culture and behavior, as well as hold teams accountable for change.

Catalyst Resources

What Can We Do as Individuals?

Workplace culture is the sum of all the actions of each individual employee. All of our actions matter—and we can all help create a more inclusive culture with zero tolerance for discrimination and bad behavior. To begin, we must recognize that professional working relationships between men and women are normal and expected. Sometimes this means we need to have difficult conversations about gender and equity so that we can find a shared path forward. Many of us also need to learn how to speak up as bystanders to harassment or other inappropriate behavior. Most importantly, we need men—who still hold the vast majority of positions of power—to become active champions of workplace inclusion. 

Catalyst Resources

Have You Been Sexually Harassed at Work? 

Other Resources