#152 Stopping Sexual Harassment: Claire Cain Miller

The growing #MeToo movement has exposed many cases of sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

Among the latest examples is an upheaval at Nike. Female employees, fed up with years of gender discrimination, insensitive behavior and crude comments by male colleagues, took action. Covertly, they surveyed female peers, asking about their experiences. The findings led to changes, with at least six top male executives resigning or announcing plans to leave the company.

Despite widespread media coverage and outrage over cases of sexual harassment and abuse, little focus has been given to what happens next. We look at specific steps employers can take to improve the workplace environment.

In this repeat episode, New York Times journalist Claire Cain Miller, who writes about gender, families and the future of work for The Upshot, explains the challenges ahead in the fight for equality and respect. 

A recent survey found that nearly half of women said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work at least once in their careers. A 2015 study revealed that only one-quarter to a third of women who experience sexual harassment report it.

Empower bystanders to act, giving everyone the tools to help prevent harassment. Bystander training is still rare in corporate America, but it has been effectively used in the military and on college campuses.  In some cases, direct action may work. One example was Charles Sonder, in the Snackman case, who disrupted a fight on a New York subway train by standing between a couple and loudly eating chips. 

Other examples of how to disrupt harassment: Drop a book, ask the victim to come to a conference room or if they want to get coffee. Talk to the victim to make sure she is OK, You might say: “I noticed that happened. Are you alright with that?”

Encourage civility: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission designed a program to create a culture of respect for everyone, such as spotlighting contributions by people who are marginalized. The program also offers helpful things to say in situations when you want to act but don’t know what to do.

Claire Cain Miller says frequent workplace training programs can help. Employees and managers should be encouraged to report harassment. Professor Ian Ayres of Yale Law School has written "information escrows"-- creative and safer ways to help harassment victims who may fear that reporting wrongdoing to harm their careers. 

Among other potential solutions: Gender equity with more women in senior executive positions; greater diversity in occupations now dominated by either men or women; generous workplace and family leave policies.