by Rebecca Greenfield
Has the workplace changed in the year since New York Times reported the first allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein? At the very least, many powerful men have altered their behaviour, according to a new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management.
A third of the more than 1,000 executives surveyed said they’ve adjusted their behaviour at work to avoid what could be perceived as sexual harassment.
“We know that in that universe of executives, there was some population that needed to get themselves in check,” said Johnny Taylor, president and chief executive officer of SHRM. “I’m not convinced we would’ve done it without the identification of those Weinstein cases.”
Human resources consultant Sharon Sellers confirmed the shift. “There are executives who are being more cautious about what they’re saying and what is said in the workplace,” said Sellers, founder of SLS Consulting LLC in Santee, South Carolina.
But changes may have gone too far in some instances, with men over-correcting and leaving women out of business discussions or mentoring opportunities. One executive told Sellers he now wouldn’t get into an elevator alone with a woman.
“I’m extremely concerned there may be unintended consequences,” Sellers said. That’s consistent with a Pew Research Center survey released in April that found 20% of respondents believed that the increased awareness of sexual harassment may lead to fewer opportunities for women.
The SHRM poll, released on Thursday, found 45% of those surveyed said they haven’t changed the way they act all, and another 21% said they had made only small changes. Since not all executives had behavior that needed changing that isn’t a surprise, Taylor said.
Executives, when asked by SHRM, for the most part report changing their behavior in appropriate ways. Of those surveyed, 24% said they were more careful about what language they used and 16% said they avoid specific topics or jokes. Another 9% said they no longer touch employees at work.
By many metrics the #MeToo movement has had a measurable effect on workplaces, even outside of the firings of certain high profile bad actors. A number of companies have revamped their sexual harassment training programs, for example.
A June study by Challenger Gray & Christmas found that over half of the 150 companies they surveyed reviewed their sexual harassment policies, up from about a third in January. A little under half of those surveyed said they weren’t comfortable with their current policies.
“Managers are very concerned,” said Sellers, the HR consultant, who estimates that she’s seen a 30% to 45% jump in requests from companies to do training on workplace behaviour. She has a wait-list through 2019, she says.
The new programs mark a shift in focus from straightforward education on harassment to bystander training, says Sellers. “We’re making sure employees realize if they see something in the workplace that does not seem appropriate, they should say something,” she said. “We want accountability from everyone.”
Research has found that traditional sexual harassment training doesn’t do much to prevent harassment and can backfire at times. By contrast, research has found that bystander training can successfully change attitudes: One study found that people who underwent the training were more likely to report harassment than those who did not.
Some data indicate that reporting of incidents has also increased. After hitting a two-decade low in 2017, sexual harassment complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission increased by more than 12% from last year. The federal agency has also been aggressive with litigation this year, filing 41 sexual harassment lawsuits so far, up from 33 in 2017.
“At a minimum, there’s now an open conversation that this behavior is still occurring,” said SHRM’s Taylor. “Don’t think we’ve solved for this by highlighting one or two industries.”