I guess it all depends where you look.
One study says sexual harassment in the workplace is down. Another one says it's up.
And then there are the stats on who exactly is being harassed. Used to be assumed that it was all women. Then gay, lesbian and transgendered employees moved up on the list. Now straight men are filing an increasing number of sexual harassment complaints, usually aimed at their female bosses.
As if all of this wasn't confusing enough, there are questions about what to do to stop, or at least reduce sexual harassment at work. Heck, most of us can't even agree on what is really is. Some things are easy to define as sexual harassment, like when sexual favors are a condition of promotion or even hiring (think the proverbial "director's couch.")
But other things are trickier. When does a compliment become sexual harassment? Or a hug or a pat on the back? Is it only the big things that count, or is everything potentially open to interpretation as harassment?
Amid this maelstrom of uncertainty, there are a few things employers can do to reduce the likelihood of sexual harassment at work. And as you probably expect on this blog, I'm going to list training first. So here goes...
Yup, this is yet another case of what we don't know CAN hurt us. If your employees and your managers can't even come up with a clear definition of sexual harassment, how are they supposed to:
A) Recognize it
B) Prevent it
C) Deal with it when it happens
Now for the good news. Sexual harassment training does NOT have to be boring. In fact, it probably won't do a heck of a lot of good if it is boring. People who are falling asleep, daydreaming or doodling probably are not learning very much.
Look for a sexual harassment training program that gets people involved in the process. Something with role playing, humor or an interactive component will be much more effective than a lecture (remember that earlier post about why lectures are a bad way to teach? Well, here's your chance to apply that knowledge!)
2) Create a culture that doesn't enable sexual harassment
It can be as simple as open door policies for small meetings. You can also make sure spouses and partners are invited to social events on a regular basis. Let your employees, from senior management on down, know that any instance of sexual harassment will be investigated and dealt with promptly. No exceptions.
3) Remain observant
It's estimated that up to 70% of sexual harassment events are never reported, so it's up to you to be aware of the mood and tone of employee interactions. If meetings often include off-color jokes or references, it's time to pull in the reins and get that behavior under control.