One year since #MeToo: How workplaces have changed

It’s been one year since the #MeToo movement began with The New York Times reporting the first allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein. So how have workplaces changed? The long and short of it: There have been positive changes, but there’s still more work to be done — and a lot of that is HR’s responsibility.

That’s the consensus from new research from the Society for Human Resource Management, which found that a third of the 1,000 executives surveyed by SHRM say they’ve altered their actions to avoid behaviors that could be perceived as sexual harassment.

That behavior change came in several forms: 24% said they were more careful about what language they used and 16% said they avoid specific topics or jokes. Another 9% said they no longer touch employees at work.

Still the SHRM poll found 45% of those surveyed said they haven’t changed the way they act all, and another 21% said they had made only small changes. Even more, while 72% of employees said they were satisfied with their company’s efforts to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, more than one-third still believe their workplace fosters sexual harassment.

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“The fact that some workplace cultures still foster sexual harassment says there is more work to be done,” said SHRM CEO and President Johnny C. Taylor Jr. “We need a rules-plus approach — organizations need policies and training, but it is the education piece that creates culture change. When you have employees who know how to define, identify and report sexual harassment, everyone can work together to root out sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Of those surveyed, nearly half said the most effective way to stop sexual harassment and foster a safe workplace environment is to enhance HR’s ability to investigative allegations without retaliation (cited by 45%). About the same amount (44%) said conducting independent reviews of all workplace misconduct investigations was also imperative.

Earlier this year, EBN wrote an investigative piece on the failure of HR departments when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment, reporting that 80% of harassment claims are “inadequately” dealt with by HR departments. Cases at Uber and Vice — in which employee complaints about behavior were brushed aside and ignored by HR professionals — demonstrated how human resources failed employees who reported sexual harassment.

“Unfortunately, most of the time, our experience has been [that] when women report to HR, things get worse; they don’t get better,” Tom Spiggle, a lawyer who specializes in sexual harassment cases, told EBN. “I tell employees, legally, they should report it to their employer, but I also tell them, ‘You should absolutely expect that it will result in either nothing happening, or something bad happening to you.’”

In a SourceMedia survey of 409 HR and benefits professionals earlier this year, the vast majority of respondents (70%) admitted they either were aware that others were the subjects of unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace or that they’ve witnessed such conduct themselves. The most common of those behaviors were inappropriate jokes, personal questions or innuendo (62%), suggestive text messages or emails (27%) and persistent unwelcome advances (24%).

In the last year, however, employers — with the aid of HR departments — have stepped up to make changes. For instance, a June study by outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas found that more than half of the 150 companies they surveyed reviewed their sexual harassment policies, up from about a third in January.

Forty percent of respondents to the SourceMedia survey said the #MeToo movement will have some impact on their industry this year. Twenty-four percent said it will have a little impact, and 10% said it will have a high impact. Just 13% said it would have no impact.

HR professionals told SourceMedia that changing workplace culture (75%) and increasing commitment from upper management (69%) were the keys to curbing sexual harassment.

Months later, the issue still is a priority, says SHRM’s Taylor. It’s “significant” that one-third of executives have changed behavior, he says, warning that organizations also must not go so far “the other way” that they leave women out of business discussions or mentoring opportunities.

“At its core, an organization must have the right culture to self-police,” says SHRM’s Taylor. “We have a long road to go, but positive strides have been made.”

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