Amid the ongoing blizzard of sexual-harassment reports comes this sobering statistic, courtesy of a new analysis from Challenger, Gray & Christmas: Although 71 percent of the alleged abuse took place in the workplace, only 26 percent of the victims reported the incident to HR.
“HR is the first line of defense in many of these situations,” says Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “When companies lack an effective system of reporting such behavior, the whole operation suffers.”
Indeed, the #MeToo movement has revealed some serious shortcomings at HR departments nationwide. According to a recent New York Times report, female employees at Vice Media who reported incidents of abuse and harassment by executives at the company said they received little, if any, help from HR. One former employee who complained of harassment by an executive said she was told by Nancy Ashbrooke, Vice Media’s vice president of HR at the time, to “just forget about it and laugh it off.” (In a statement to the Times, Ashbrooke said “As a woman and HR professional, I support anyone who believes they have been mistreated and throughout my career, I have worked to help companies build respectful workplaces with no tolerance for inappropriate behavior.”) In other cases, employees have cited the HR departments at companies such as The Weinstein Co. as being more concerned with protecting top executives than in looking out for employees.
Some companies are trying to correct this. The Challenger study notes that Microsoft, for example, recently changed its sexual-harassment policy to eliminate forced arbitration. NBC announced it was tightening its policy regarding harassment, including rules that mandate workers report any sexual harassment they see.
HR departments will need to focus on employee communication and transparency as they try to regain employees’ trust in the wake of these disturbing allegations, says Challenger. Leaders must develop and clearly communicate a policy regarding sexual harassment, offer reporting alternatives for employees whose harasser is their boss and demonstrate that no one–including the CEO–is exempt from consequences for sexual harassment.
“Employees need to feel like they are being listened to, and that their leaders are held to the same high standards they are,” says Challenger.