Originally published on Forbes.
The video recently leaked by Access Hollywood of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women is shining a renewed spotlight on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. In the aftermath of the video, 11 women have spoken out and accused Trump of sexually harassing them, and many of the incidents occurred in the context of business interactions. The various allegations of sexual misconduct by Bill Clinton over the years are also resurfacing in the media as a result of the events of the past several weeks.
Politics aside, it is crystal clear that we still have a major problem with sexual harassment in this country and that it is more prevalent than many of us would like to think. A recent study also confirms this: 24% of female respondents said they had experienced being sexually harassed, compared to 5% of men. And in a survey by Cosmopolitan magazine, one-third of respondents—all women between the ages of 18 and 34—said they had been sexually harassed at work. But that number is likely higher, as the data indicated that a chunk of the respondents didn’t realize behavior that they had encountered was actually sexual harassment. Sixteen percent answered “no” when asked if they had been sexually harassed, but responded “yes” that they had heard sexually explicit or sexist comments at work.
Incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace are also widely underreported: 71% of people who had been sexually harassed did not report it. Why? Probably because of concerns that reports won’t be handled properly, valid concerns considering that of the 29% of women who did report the incidents, only 15% were satisfied with the outcome.
This should shock and anger us all. We’re breeding a culture where women are not only afraid and reluctant to report being victims of sexual harassment, we’ve become so casual about this issue that many don’t even know that they’re victims.
Here are four things you should know about sexual harassment in the workplace and what you can do if you’ve been a victim of it.
1. Sexual harassment comes in all different forms. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides a broad definition of sexual harassment, which includes: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature. Chances are, if you have to ask, you’ve probably experienced sexual harassment. Unfortunately, though, many women question themselves, given that sexual harassment is not considered to be a “serious problem” in much of our society. Rest assured that any unwelcome comment or gesture that is sexual in nature is indeed sexual harassment, no matter how benign it may seem.
2. If you’ve experienced sexual harassment at work, you should document all of the activity. Write down what happened, when, and where. Keep a detailed account of the incidents and store the information in a safe location outside of your workplace.
3. Research whether your company has a formal policy on sexual harassment. You can find this information either in your employee handbook, on your company’s website, or by requesting it through HR. Whether or not your company has a policy on sexual harassment in the workplace will help you figure out what your options are and help you determine the next steps. If your company has no formal policy, the HR department may be able to assist you, and you always have the option of pursuing a complaint with the EEOC.
4. Your employer is required to remain impartial after a report has been filed. Your employer will have to conduct an internal investigation, but the EEOC does not permit an employer to retaliate against an employee. So while the process of resolving a report of sexual harassment can be drawn out, you do have various protections to ensure that your rights are protected in the meantime.
The onus is on all of us to do better in breeding a society and an environment that condemns such behavior and ensures safe workplaces for all employees. We simply aren’t doing enough yet to change the discourse around this issue.
Case in point: when NBC suspended Billy Bush for his involvement in the tapes, which included him egging on Trump’s comments, various media sources actually seemed critical of NBC’s decision and the fact that they haven’t publicly explained the suspension in-depth. Some may be inclined to defend Bush and say that it’s his job to conduct edgy interviews and encourage celebrities to spill salacious comments, but such an outlook only perpetuates the problem.
…And I know we can do better than that.
Ashley Stahl helps job seekers find their purpose, land more job offers and launch their dream businesses. Sign up here for her free jumpstart course on how to land a new job you love.