[originally published on Medium]
Dear Employees of Companies and Members of Organizations,
In recent weeks we have written letters to CEOs and boards of directors, CHROs and human resources executives, and managers and supervisors, explaining how they can help end sexual abuse and harassment in their workplaces.
All of those groups are essential to ending the serious and widespread problem of sexual violence in the workplace. While it is true that leadership comes from the top and ultimate responsibility lies with those decision-makers, all employees have a role to play in establishing and maintaining an organizational culture where respect and civility are promoted and harassment is swiftly and proportionally addressed.
As a result, you are the first line of defense in ensuring that your workplace, religious community, or social organization is free of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Your role starts with being an educated and engaged bystander. An engaged bystander is someone who lives up to that responsibility by being involved before, during, or after a situation when they see or hear behaviors that threaten, harass, or otherwise encourage sexual misconduct.
The behaviors that make up sexual violence exist on a spectrum. While some behaviors — such as sexist jokes, inappropriate sexual comments, innuendos, catcalling, or vulgar gestures — aren’t illegal, this does not make them any less threatening or harmful to the person experiencing them. As the #MeToo movement has revealed, all of them occur far too often in workplaces across the country, from film sets to newsrooms to athletic facilities. Sixty percent of women say they have experienced unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments in the workplace.
Reducing that number is within our grasp; however, it requires everyone to stand up and say that enough is enough. All of us must embrace our voices and demonstrate that these behaviors are unacceptable and not part of a safe and welcoming workplace.
Beyond saying or doing something to address problematic behaviors, you can also help ensure that your employer is following the best practices to prevent sexual harassment and misconduct. If your organization does not have a clear and comprehensive anti-harassment policy, speak with your supervisor or human resources officer about the importance of implementing one, even if you yourself have never experienced sexual harassment. If you received an anti-sexual harassment training annually or upon joining your company, engage with it thoroughly and honestly and verify that it contained relevant, realistic scenarios that address the spectrum of unacceptable behavior, not just the standards where behavior becomes legally actionable. Confirm that you and your coworkers are being informed of your rights and responsibilities if you experience behaviors that violate anti-harassment policies.
Most importantly, speak up if you see abusive behavior. Inform your colleagues when their actions are inappropriate or harassing. Ignoring inappropriate behavior does not make the problem disappear; it only emboldens those behaving inappropriately. Share your support with victims of inappropriate behavior, letting them know that what happened to them is not acceptable and isn’t their fault. If they wish, assist them with the process of reporting what happened through your employer’s formal procedures.
Together, we can end workplace sexual violence.
Kristen Houser, MPA
Chief Public Affairs Officer