The sexual assault allegations recently unearthed against producer and former film studio executive Harvey Weinstein highlights the ongoing issue of sexual harassment against women in the workplace. Ask any woman, and she’ll probably tell you she’s received unwanted sexual advances at some point in her career. While handling a coworker’s lewd behavior can be challenging enough, the threat can quickly climax when your boss is the offender. So it’s not that difficult to reasonably comprehend why it would “take so long” for accusers to speak out against a powerful Hollywood figure like Weinstein. Here’s what women can do about sexual harassment when they are terrified to report their bosses and risk their careers.
Know how to identify it
To adequately address sexual harassment, you must first understand what it means. Sexual harassment can include (but is not limited to) touching/groping, gestures, jokes or comments that create a hostile work environment. Companies find themselves in hot water when they fail to respond appropriately. All of these behaviors may be against company policy and can be illegal. Many women fail to report these incidents because “He never touched me” or “We weren’t at work” or “It only happened once” — even if they felt offended or violated. You add another layer of concern when the offender is in a position of power, such as someone who owns the company or supervises you. The fear of termination and a threat of retaliation are also reasons women keep quiet.
Know it’s ok to speak up
Let the offender know his behavior makes you uncomfortable. This may be enough to make him back off or at least bring awareness to his unacceptable behavior. Some women have stated they remained silent due to the belief that if they ignore it, it’ll stop. In reality, if you don’t want to be asked out, whistled at or given pet names, you need to say it loud and clear. Never mind whose feelings you hurt. You have a right to feel safe. As women, we have enough issues to fight while climbing the corporate ladder or building a business. The last thing a woman needs is being forced into submission by an industry mogul who can’t keep his hands to himself — and can blackball her career with a single text message.
Know your company’s policy
Many companies have policies in place that address a specific protocol for who needs to be notified of the incident and what steps will be taken to correct the situation. The policy may suggest that your next step be to report it to your supervisor or the human resources department. Despite holding an executive leadership role, sexual misconduct rules still apply. His authority doesn’t exempt him from punishment, and even the company owner has to answer to someone. Keep in mind that the Supreme Court makes it mandatory that you report the incident before filing a lawsuit. Maintain any detailed documentation of the violation to support your claim — and it’s even better if you have witnesses. Incidents of sexual harassment can also occur at an offsite company event. Offenses that take place at activities scheduled after normal work hours are still grounds for a sexual harassment claim if they were company-related. Social media activity can also be used to support claims of misconduct. When in doubt, get legal help.
Regardless of the law, men in power will continue to offend and humiliate women until we understand our rights and hold them accountable. Although you can’t control the actions of others, you can set clear boundaries and demand respect.
Ashley Watkins, Career Coach and Nationally Certified Résumé Writer with Write Step Resumes, LLC, provides high-quality résumé writing, interview preparation, and career coaching services to help job seekers get more interviews and job offers fast. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or via www.WriteStepResumes.com.