This week, we’re going to talk about how to handle those difficult, tricky, sometimes career-jeopardizing situations — starting with sexual harassment.
We may not be living in the era of “Mad Men” anymore, but sexual harassment is still a problem today. One in four women have experienced it in the workplace. So, if you’ve been sexually harassed in the office, you’re unfortunately not alone. Hopefully, as more women ascend to the highest levels, those numbers will drop.
But that can only happen if you do something about the harassment. Over 40 percent of women don’t report getting sexually harassed. They fear retaliation — getting further harassed, marginalized at work, or even fired.
We know it isn’t easy to confront sexual harassment, especially when there are those who tell us to just shut up about it. But addressing a difficult situation is a key leadership quality. The best and most inspiring leaders don’t ignore problems; they solve them.
So, if you’ve experienced sexual harassment, step up. TAKE ACTION. Here’s how:
1. Document it immediately
When you think you’ve been sexually harassed, write down what happened IMMEDIATELY: who, what, when, and where. Be as specific as possible with what was said or done to you. Leave no detail out. And if there was someone else there to witness the harassment, ask them for a written statement immediately as well. Keep this documentation in a safe place at home.
2. Tell the harasser to stop
This is the most difficult step, but one you must take if you eventually have to file a claim because part of that claim is that the behavior is “unwelcome.” Make it clear to your harasser that you object to their comments or actions and that they should stop at once. If you do it in person, make sure to send a follow-up in writing (see below).
3. Communicate in writing
Make sure there’s a “paper” trail (either in actual paper or digitally) of the problem. If you talked in person to the harasser, your boss, your HR manager, or upper management, send a follow-up outlining what both parties said. Again, include as many details as possible; actual quotes are best.
4. Research policies
Is what you experienced even sexual harassment? Many of us have a vague understanding of what the law and our company policies actually are. So, read Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as your state’s anti-sexual harassment laws. And go over your company’s handbook to understand their specific policies.
5. Report the sexual harassment if necessary
If the harassment doesn’t stop after you address it, then you may need to file a claim. Many companies have established procedures on how to handle sexual harassment. After reading the handbook, follow those procedures, whether it’s talking to your supervisor or HR.
If your company doesn’t have procedures or you work in a different kind of environment, look into contacting a lawyer or the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
Get more detailed info on dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace in our step-by-step guide:
STEP ONE: CONFRONT SEXUAL HARASSMENT
- As soon as you feel harassed, write down the details (on paper) of the harassment immediately, when the situation is still fresh in your mind. Include the date, time, location, parties involved, and what was said/done. Actual quotes are best.
- If the situation was observed by others, ask them for a written statement (on paper) about what they saw and heard.
- Outside the office, make copies of any statements. Keep them in a safe place at home.
- Talk to the harasser or write them an email. Make it clear that you were not comfortable with they said or did. Note the details of the situation, as you’d written them down. Again, be specific: “When you said [statement], I was offended. Please stop making similar statements in the future.”
- If you spoke to the harasser in person, send an email outlining what you spoke about and the resolution of your conversation. Copy your supervisor and/or HR.
- Read Title VII and look up your state’s anti-sexual harassment laws. Read your company handbook. Note the procedures that you should take if you make a claim.
- If the harassment continues, keep documenting each instance (again, on paper, with corroboration if possible).
- If necessary, compile all your documentation and file a formal complaint with HR. If you don’t have HR, file it with your supervisor and/or senior management. If that’s not feasible, contact a lawyer and reach out to the EEOC.