With as often as you hear of new sexual harassment cases in the news, you may wonder why I refer to Sexual Harassment as the silent epidemic. Unfortunately, the stories that make the news often leave the public feeling as though this only happens in big business and tv land. But the silent side of sexual harassment can, and is, happening throughout all industries, in all size companies across the US. The statistics provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prove that fact. And it is time for employers to realize that this can be happening right under their noses, if they are not implementing policies and training to prevent it from happening.

On Sunday night, NBC Nightly News ran a story that revealed the true statistics, and the fact that the high profile cases are bringing new attention to a very long standing problem.  High-profile-scandals-draw-focus-to-sexual-harassment. Here are the numbers:

1 in 4 (25%) of women have experienced sexual harassment at work.

60% of women have experienced sexual harassment if you include sexist or crude language. (Which is legally a sexual harassment violation.

75% of women who have been sexually harassed, have never reported the incident(s).

The interview included a statement by Victoria Lipnic, Acting Chair of the EEOC, who stated that the sexual harassment claims come from blue collar and white collar workers, across all industries, every day and everywhere.

In talking with HR professionals almost every day, it is still surprising to me how often I hear the statement, “Our company hasn’t had a sexual harassment claim in years. Our employees just aren’t like that”.  Or, “That doesn’t happen with us. We’re a group of educated, professionals.”

This is why I call sexual harassment the silent epidemic. If 60% of employees (and that’s not including the males who are harassed) have been harassed in the workplace, and 75% are not reporting it, then 45% of the female workforce has been harassed and is not reporting it. Generally, the reason for not reporting these incidents is due to fear of retaliation.

Back in July 2017, Megan Kelly released a news story on Women in Silicon Valley in which she interviewed 6 female tech leaders. (https://www.nbcnews.com/megyn-kelly/video/women-of-silicon-valley-part-1-women-share-stories-of-alleged-sexual-harassment-1001303107992)

When asked, all 6 of these women stated they had been harassed, did not report the harassment, and did not due to fear of retaliation. These are strong, experienced female leaders who chose to deal with the harassment in order to protect their careers.

If you believe that harassment is not happening in your workplace, read through just a couple of current EEOC claims.

10/16/17 Farmer John meat packing (manufacturing) https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/10-16-17.cfm

9/21/17 IHOP Chain of Franchises (Hospitality) https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-21-17b.cfm

Malcolm S. Gerald & Associates (Professional Services) https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-19-17a.cfm

7/25/17 Home Instead, In-Home Care Provider (Healthcare) https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/7-25-17c.cfm

Although many employers still believe that it is best to let a sleeping dog lie, it is also better to know what is going on in your workplace, rather than being blindsided by a post on Social Media. There are things we all can do, or do better, to protect our companies and our people. Here are just a few:

  • Review company policies with all staff at least annually. This doesn’t mean just send out an email, but actually review the policy, tell the employees that the company stands behind the policies, and allow questions and input.
  • Train all employees at least annually. We don’t encourage the use of the same training over and over. Change up the topic slightly with interactive presentations and varying subjects. For example, training for observers and bystanders, civility code development, and proper workplace communications. We can all stand to learn a little more.
  • Be available to talk through minor incidents before they get out of hand. Encourage employees to come to you when they need ideas on how to handle a difficult situation.
  • And this is the most important, hold everyone in your company or organization accountable to the same set of standards.

When we work together toward a more civil workplace, we can make a difference!