Harassment and discrimination in the workplace – what to do?

We sometimes hear the claim that women have achieved full equality in U.S. society and that hence, the problem of gender disparity has been resolved.

The sheer numbers of participants in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history” tell a different story. Despite vigorous claims that the gender pay gap is a “myth”, female representation in political and commercial leadership positions has clearly not reached a point of equality.

The heightened awareness of persisting discrimination may have contributed to the astonishing rash of men who lost their prominent positions in entertainment, media and politics in 2017 because of alleged or documented sexual transgressions. Instead of whispering about “open secrets” – such as egregious sexual harassment or grossly unfair treatment of female job applicants – women began to share their stories in public. No matter which industry was being discussed, the stories were depressingly similar, revealing a pattern of stalled careers.

The public discussion documents a change in attitudes. “Young professionals are pretty much fearless, and their fearlessness is driving a lot of long-overdue change,” wrote Rose Miller, President of Pinnacle Human Resources, LLC, in her “Work Matters” column in the Albany Times Union on December 6, 2017. According to Miller, a new generation of well-educated female workers is less inclined to “keep quiet and endure” harassment. As a result, HR departments are seeing larger numbers of complaints and must sort out the resulting procedures.

Here are a few questions women in the workplace are asking:

  1. What is the best approach for an employee in case of unwanted sexual approaches by a coworker or superior?

The first step is to stop suffering in silence and speak up.

“In many sexual harassment cases, […], the responsible parties may not realize that their conduct is offensive. If you are a victim of harassment, your first step toward resolving the problem should be to let the offending party know that you find their conduct offensive.” – (Sexual Harassment: Actions You Can Take)

If that does not stop the offensive behavior, it’s time to investigate your employer’s existing procedures. These can be found in the employee handbook, online, or requested from the HR department. Carefully follow the procedures outlined for reporting harassment claims.

If you haven’t already, start a detailed record of harassment episodes, along with dates, times, the involved people, and what exactly was said.

  1. What are some of the remedies you can take if you think you’ve been unfairly overlooked for a promotion or other leadership opportunity?

As the Lean In Women in the Workplace report pointed out in 2017, gender bias remains a forceful factor in in the workplace: “Entry-level women are 18% less likely to be promoted than their male peers.”

Steps to take if you have leadership ambitions:

– Seek a mentor in the company

– Be clear about your aspirations and take responsibility

– Step up your networking

Classy Career Girl has put together a few useful steps to consider: Get Promoted in 6 Simple Steps

  1. How can you respond, particularly in non-traditional work environments for women, when there is “guy talk/locker room talk” or you can’t help but overhear disparaging language about women in general?

An excellent article on the topic appeared in the Harvard Business Review in February 2017: How to Respond to an Offensive Comment at Work.  It points out the pros and cons of speaking up and particularly highlights the role of managers: “Recognize that if you are in a position of power, you have a responsibility to address offensive comments.”


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