Sexual Harassment: The Workplace’s Dirty Little Secret

October 31, 2017 by

sexual harassment in the workplace Recent headlines have been littered with numerous stories of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and rape. Harvey Weinstein. Google. Uber. Silicon Valley. SoFi. Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes of Fox News. Three hundred and ten accusations against filmmaker James Toback. Mark Halperin. Taylor Swift allegedly being groped by radio host David Mueller. And for real, our 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush?

Sadly, sexual harassment is so pervasive that we sometimes don’t see it. Gender inequality in the workplace has gotten better over the years, but it’s still a far cry from giving men and women equal opportunities. As a result, despicable men often use their power and influence to coerce and take sexual advantage of women who simply want to advance their careers. This puts women in an incredibly difficult place. They are forced to decide whether to ignore inappropriate behavior that truly should be punished, or risk their reputation and career by confronting or speaking out against someone who has a much more powerful position. Many women choose to ignore inappropriate behavior, which makes these despicable men think they can get away with continuing to act like creeps and criminals. It’s turned into a disgusting cycle. (Hollywood is the perfect example. So many people knew about the entertainment industry’s dirty little secret, but did not report it.)

As the father of two intelligent and talented girls who will be entering the workforce in the near future, the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace terrifies me. It’s hard to know where to start fixing such a big problem, but a good place to focus is gender equality in the workforce. If more women hold positions of power and earn similar wages as men, the power balance will shift and sexual harassment should decrease. We need to start by questioning the status quo.

Shockingly, nearly 50% of men think that when just one in ten senior leaders of their company is a woman, that’s enough. Nearly as remarkable is that roughly a third of woman agree. In addition, men and women have very disparate perspectives on that progress:

My company is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity.1
– Men: 63% agree
– Women: 49% agree

My company often or always addresses disrespectful behavior toward women quickly.1
– Men: 55% agree
– Women: 34% agree

If we can change how we think about gender inequality and demand better, progress can move quicker than the current glacial pace.


So, what can YOU do to correct this injustice? Here are 8 concrete steps:

1. Make a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and gender inequality part of your corporate culture.

2. If you’re a senior HR leader, make a compelling business case for gender diversity and link it both to business results and employee engagement.

3. Help women feel comfortable coming forward so that instances of harassment are reported to Human Resources, the harasser’s manager, the Equal Opportunity Employment Officer, and if applicable, police authorities.

4. Safeguard that all incidences are documented, and if possible, videotaped. Be as specific as possible, recording dates, times, places, and possible witnesses. Also record who the incident was reported to, as well as their response.

5. Make use of your company resources. Check the company handbook and follow the related company policy accordingly. If company policies are lacking, ask that they be updated.

6. Recognize the critical role managers play. Given that managers make the day-to-day decisions that influence women’s careers, they are in the best position to protect and support their fair and equal treatment. Acknowledge that managers may need more training to properly address issues.

7. Support coworkers who have experienced harassment and encourage them to come forward and report what happened.

8. Publicly share your experience using the hashtag #MeToo. The more women who do so the better, since it will give the world an accurate sense of the magnitude of the problem.

No company can afford to leave top talent left out, ignored, and treated unfairly. And in a country founded on the value of equality, everyone deserves a fair chance, regardless of his or her gender, race, values, background, or beliefs.


Source: LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. Women In The Workplace 2017 Survey of over 70,000 men and women


Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.