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Combating sexual harassment in the workplace

Trade journal Accounting Today has completed an in-depth analysis of sexual harassment across several industries. In publishing the results, they’ve boiled it down to “10 key findings,” which paint a picture of workplaces where employees understand that harassment is a problem, but they either don't have the awareness to identify it or they don't believe that their reports will lead to real change.

Power dynamics, employee handbooks and guidelines, and company culture have a major impact on the employee experience.

Industries in the study include:

  • wealth management
  • insurance
  • higher education
  • consulting/professional services
  • banking
  • IT and telecom
  • health care

Human resources, awareness and enforcement

Larger companies fared better in the study, with businesses of fewer than 100 employees struggling to maintain consistent messaging. Employees report looser attitudes and fewer experts available to help them deal with harassment and other complaints. They also note that small businesses have often have a looser culture where work relationships jump between professional and casual more freely.

The study also reflects gender differences. While women are the victims of the majority of harassment, men frequently witness incidents. While men are aware of the issue, many incidents--including the serious offenses--are sometimes not seen for what they are. At other times, they happen behind closed doors in one-on-one situations.

Awareness alone doesn't solve a problem

While the report emphasizes an ongoing problem, there are positive signs as well, including the increased awareness of employees. Awareness, though, doesn't stop harassment from happening. Employees need firm guidelines and training to deal with harassment if it occurs.

Many participants say their workplace policies feels like lip service rather than a genuine effort. Similarly, many harassment victims are disappointed in their company's response. A successful business requires employee satisfaction and a true feeling of security. Clear employee guidelines and training will help prevent issues, but it's equally important to have a response system in place so, if an employee files a complaint, it respects the employee and protects your business equally.

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