By now we’ve all heard the accusations placed against Harvey Weinstein. His actions being publicly exposed have triggered a flood of women coming forward to break their silence of how he (allegedly) assaulted them, too. What has happened since has been a domino effect of incredible proportions, as women have found their strength and voice to speak up on how other men in power have abused, attacked, and sexually assaulted them.
In the shadows of all these stories, however, are women who have been manipulated, bullied, frightened, and silenced. Well, not anymore—because of the strength and courage of a then 22-year old Italian model named Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who believed in her worth and refused to go away quietly. Her bravery has opened the doors for other women to stand up for themselves and I applaud every one of them.
Based on statistics, it can be said that most victims of sexual assault don’t feel safe coming forth with allegations. Rape is the most under-reported crime, with 63% of assaults not reported to the police; more than 90% of victims on college campuses don’t report. Sadly, by not reporting, these women don’t benefit from added support and are often left to deal with the pain and trauma of the incident alone.
Unfortunately, we see similar accounts of such behavior in the workplace. In fact, workplace sexual violence accounts for more than 8% of rapes—and that doesn’t even take into consideration the distasteful comments, inappropriate gestures, and offensive groping that women experience. If you think your workplace is above reproach from the impact of sexual violence, think again.
Although conversations on this topic can be uncomfortable, they are imperative if we’re ever going to make real, lasting change. We will continue to face the same problems and issues if we continue to look the other way. Silence and turning a blind eye to the problem is no different than condoning the behavior. Women felt safe to come forward during the #metoo campaign because there is safety in numbers, and there was acceptance and support on a social level. It’s time we take that same level of safety and instill that in our work environments.
How do we create more supportive, healthy surroundings at the office? Here are three actionable steps:
1. TRAIN AND ENGAGE YOUR STAFF
Train your staff to know what constitutes sexual harassment (and bullying, for that matter). They won’t know what they don’t know. Have experts brought in and discuss complaint procedures—which means you have to have procedures developed. Have a safe place for employees to report if/when instances occur. Given the prevalence of unreported cases, it is generally not characteristic of women to come forth and report false claims of sexual harassment (although I’m not saying it doesn’t ever happen). When complaints are made, investigate them, fully.
2. SAY SOMETHING
If you are a woman and your safety is compromised, speak up. Don’t put your emotional, physical, and mental well-being in jeopardy. The job, promotion, or attention you may get are not worth giving up your dignity and mental sanity. If you are a man (and not the slime-ball perpetrator) and you see or hear someone being inappropriate or compromised, SAY SOMETHING. Your voice can save someone from life-long trauma.
3. MAKE DIVERSITY A PRIORITY
Diversity in the workplace will provide varying worldviews, differing perspectives, and innovative problem-solving, along with an equitable level of comfort. People feel more comfortable when they have someone to talk to when they can relate to their experiences.
We still have some work to do to gain awareness and equality at work, including dealing with issues like sexual harassment head-on. The first step is being bold enough to have a voice and start the discussion. Stand for yourselves and each other. I am grateful for the women who have stood up and said #metoo—the silence has been broken.
Let me know what steps you have taken to support and empower women in your workplace.