Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Preventing Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

Sexual harassment is one of the most significant risks to your organization, and prevention is everyone’s business.

sexual harassmentBetween 2010 and 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received more than 28,000 harassment charges and companies paid $125 million in sexual harassment penalties. The US Merit System Protection Board estimates that 40-70% of woman and 13-31% of men experience some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. One study even showed that sexual harassment costs companies $22,500 per (targeted) person in lost productivity alone. Yet despite the penalties paid, harassment behaviors still occur at an alarming rate.

No industry is immune to sexual harassment. In recent months we have seen sexual harassment in virtually every industry, and the creation and mobilization of a global social media movement that gives victims a voice and exposes sexual harassment prevalence. What was once an underground taboo subject is now front and center for every leader and board member to see. The #MeToo movement reports that more than 17 million women have been victims of sexual harassment since 1998. Twitter confirmed that more than 1.7 million Tweets have been made with the hashtag and its translations worldwide. Those numbers are still continuing to grow.

So, what is causing this?

The Perfect Storm

Two organizational conditions create the perfect storm for sexual harassment: a climate of tolerance and a culture of silence.

A climate of tolerance exists when employees see that harassment is tolerated and that there is no consequence for harassment behavior.

“If you are a senior leader and think the coast is clear because no incidents have been reported in your organization, you may be fooling yourself.”

A culture of silence exists when employees willfully withhold valuable work-related information. One type of silence culture is futility. This exists when employees realize that nothing happens when they voice concerns, ideas or solutions. As a result, employees give up and stay silent because trying to voice views and opinions seem to fall on deaf ears.

Victims’ harassment tolerance perceptions, the fear of being adversely labeled, potential retaliation, and a culture of silence can influence the disclosure decision. For example, in one study, only 25% of university employees who experienced sexual harassment actually reported it.

Another study showed that of the 63% of victims who sought help after harassment, 93% experienced negative physical symptoms and 73% experienced emotional distress such as anger and increased anxiety. Another study showed that of the 447 female respondents, “64% said the harassment lasted between one week to six months, 66% rated the incident as ‘offensive,’ or ‘extremely offensive,’ 56% reported the incident as ‘upsetting,’ or ‘extremely upsetting,’ and 83% reported that they had to continue working with the perpetrator.”

With all of this research and knowledge, what can be done to stop this?

Preventing the Perfect Storm

When victims experience a climate of intolerance they are more likely to report harassment incidents. Clear anti-harassment policies and leadership response practices influence this culture of intolerance.

When a victim believes that it is NOT futile to report an incident, they are more likely to report it. For example, if an organization declares a “Zero Tolerance” harassment policy and the leadership actually believes and demonstrates this policy, victims are more likely to report incidents than if the policy is merely words on a piece of paper or plastic card.

The best harassment prevention strategy is three-fold:

  • Clear anti-harassment policies; with formal reporting and investigation mechanisms in place.
  • Shaping and sustaining a Culture of Voice.
  • Leadership training in legal, behavioral, and procedural harassment responsiveness.

Anti-harassment is everyone’s business. Organization decision makers must take the problem seriously. If you are a senior leader and think the coast is clear because no incidents have been reported in your organization, you may be fooling yourself.

Start with crystal clear Anti-Harassment Policies. Declaring Zero Tolerance is the most powerful message for all employees.

Begin measuring the levels of silence and voice in your organization. Silence is one of the two variables that make for a perfect storm. Be certain that you know where silence micro-cultures exist and map a plan to reshape a culture of voice in every business area where silence is a risk. You can’t prevent harassment if it’s hidden in silence.

Make sure that every leader has a deep understanding of the practices that represent risk of harassment within the organization, how to recognize signs of harassment, and how to intervene if it exists.

Harassment is one of the most significant risks to your organization. Prevention is everyone’s business.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.