Corporate sexual harassment hotlines don’t work. They’re not designed to.
Read the full article at Quartz.
As fresh allegations of sexual harassment swirled around its star anchor, Fox News made a convenient observation on behalf of its parent company: Not one employee, it told the New York Times in a statement, “ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously.”
Fox News may be known for keeping a loose grip on the truth, but there was no reason to doubt the network on this. Corporate complaint hotlines like the one at Fox News tend not to get very busy—not because harassment isn’t happening, but because hotlines for reporting harassment are rarely designed to be used by employees.
What they’re mainly designed for is legal cover for companies, which can point to them, should the need arise, to demonstrate their efforts at protecting employees from a hostile work environment. O’Reilly, who has denied the allegations, also noted the lack of calls to the Fox hotline.
According to the Times, many employees at Fox didn’t even know the hotline existed—a not-unusual circumstance, according to Ramona Paetzold, a management professor at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School. “It is common to have hotlines, to encourage employees to use them, and to make the phone numbers obscure,” she says.
Even if awareness and accessibility aren’t a problem, an employee’s comfort level in making a complaint might be an issue.
To actually curb harassment, and not just the legal risk associated with it, companies need to commit to (and employees need to demand) cultural changes that encourage reporting of problematic behavior and have a fighting chance of deterring it in the first place.
Hire an ombudsman
In 2015, almost a third of the 90,000 reports of employer discrimination filed with the US federal government involved complaints about harassment, sexual or otherwise. That sounds like a high number. But formally reporting harassment, whether internally or in a lawsuit, is actually one of the least common ways that workers respond to harassment, according to a 2008 summary of research. This finding, by Lilia Cortina, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, and Jennifer Berdahl, a professor at the University of British Columbia, suggest that each year there are tens of thousands more cases of harassment that go unreported, and that’s just in the US.
The choice not to report may come down to a survival strategy. A separate study published by Cortina and another co-author in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that two-thirds of employees who reported sexual harassment experienced some form of retaliation.