In 1978, 23-year old Michelle Vinson sued her employer after getting fired from her job as a bank teller. The lawsuit charged that the bank’s Vice President created a hostile working environment by sexually harassing Vinson for years. In a unanimous 1986 decision, the Supreme Court sided with Vinson, ruling that sexual harassment constitued a form of sex discrimination that violated her civil rights.
That was more than 40 years ago. And yet—after Vinson, after Anita Hill, and even after Harvey Weinstein—sexual harassment remains pervasive. A 2018 report from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found that more than one in three women in white-collar jobs have been victims of sexual harassment. And yet, company-sponsored programs that attempt to address harassment remain stuck in the past.
Training isn’t the only place most sexual harassment programs fall short. Lilia Cortina, a professor of psychology, women’s studies, & management at the University of Michigan, has found that many organizations flounder in how they handle complaints. Cortina’s research reveals that companies’ formal grievance systems fail for four reasons: they are rarely used; people who file complaints regularly face retaliation; retaliation has negative long-term career and health consequences; and formal complaints rarely lead to the removal of the harasser. Filing a complaint can do more harm than good, if it does anything at all.
Given that current efforts to address workplace sexual harassment are clearly not working, what does an effective program look like? Cortina said the starting point has to be a commitment from leadership to meaningful cultural change, rather than checking a box or looking for a quick fix.
“The mere presence of anti-harassment training should not be the ultimate goal,” Cortina said. “It should be a significant reduction in sexist and misogynistic attitudes, and significant reduction in harassing conduct.”
Read the full article at Quartz.