Despite increased talk about workplace harassment and discrimination, a large number of cases continue to go unreported. The Harvard Business review article, “Do Your Employees Feel Safe Reporting Abuse and Discrimination,” by Lily Zheng, explores this issue as well as steps employers can take to encourage reporting and reduce problematic behavior. In the following, we will discuss key findings and takeaways from the article.
The article begins by laying out some statistics on workplace harassment and discrimination as well as reporting. A survey by Glassdoor found that 61% of U.S. employees had experienced or witnessed pervasive discrimination based on race, gender, age, and sexuality in the workplace. That said, an EEOC report found that only 30% of employees facing harassment made internal complaints, and less than 15% filed formal legal charges.
There are many reasons why reporting rates remain low despite the prevalence of workplace harassment and discrimination. Primary factors include fear of retaliation, a perceived low likelihood that the victim will personally benefit from reporting, inflexibility of reporting options, lack of anonymity, and a hostile work environment where reports will be met with backlash or ignored. Unfortunately, victims of harassment and discrimination often face more problems once they speak up. This allows both individual perpetrators and patterns of unethical practices to continue unchecked.
To encourage reporting of harassment and discrimination in your workplace, the article recommends the following practices:
- Establish and publicize metrics to hold your company accountable for addressing wrongdoing and promoting ethical behavior.
- In cases where misconduct has occurred, apologize to those affected and offer resources when possible.
- Provide access to neutral and confidential resources to support victims of harassment and discrimination (this can be a private therapist or Employee Assistance Program).
- Create anonymous formal reporting channels that protect reporters and allow for organizational change. The article notes that these channels should be convenient and should allow reporters to anonymously share information and check the status of their report throughout the process. Furthermore, these channels should allow employers to address reports without compromising anonymity and should allow for data collection to reveal trends. Notably, Red Flag Reporting meets all these standards.
The bottom line is that employees are only going to report discrimination and harassment when they feel safe and supported to do so. Creating an environment where reporting is encouraged and enabled will allow for a safer, healthier, and more positive workplace for all.