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Q&A: After #MeToo, more is needed to address workplace harassment (Includes interview)

The HR Acuity survey reveals that 67 percent of respondents indicated they reported issues of harassment to their manager. The issue? 39 percent are not confident that reported issues will be investigated thoroughly and fairly and almost half (46 percent) don’t have confidence that they won’t experience retaliation.

There is clearly more work to be done to let employees know these issues are taken seriously. To unpick these issues more fully, Digital Journal spoke with Deb Muller, CEO of HR Acuity. Muller has spent her career championing excellence and effectively managing workplace investigations.

Digital Journal: How important has the #MeToo movement been overall?

Deb Muller: #MeToo. Is there anyone working today who hasn’t heard of the movement? It’s captured the public imagination and changed the face of the workplace in the two years. Major brands have changed course based on its impact: McDonalds, Uber, Google, Microsoft, just to name a few.

It’s enormously important because it’s been a cultural catalyst, encouraging women (and men) to come forward and companies to examine their own processes. Yet – work remains.

DJ: How has the #MeToo movement impacted the workplace?

Muller: The impact of #MeToo can’t be understated. Sexual harassment isn’t new – companies and employees have been struggling with it for decades. But #MeToo has provided visibility and accountability.

Employees –particularly women – are less willing to stay behind the scenes and endure harassment. #MeToo has made harassment and misconduct unacceptable. Harassers are being held accountable. Company and personal reputations can be irrevocably damaged.

Not surprisingly, the volume of harassment allegations reported by employees is up since the #MeToo movement started. In HR Acuity’s 2018 Annual Benchmark Study, 53 percent of companies reported an increase in sexual harassment over the prior year.

DJ: What has been the biggest change in the workplace? What hasn’t changed much, but really should?

Muller: Companies have started to take steps to counter the impact of sexual harassment and made some improvements and changes to their changes and processes. But #MeToo is more of a movement than a moment, and organizations will have to do things differently to ensure safe work environments and improve the employee experience.

For example, according to our research, only 15% of businesses have developed specific strategic initiatives/plans to address #MeToo. Without processes that encompass documentation, best-practice investigations and reporting that enable consistent, fair treatment of employees, simply changing existing practices is not enough.

DJ: Why do many staff still not report harassment issues?

Muller: Even though #MeToo has made it more common, coming forward to report harassment or other illegal or unethical conduct takes enormous courage. HR Acuity recently surveyed 1,3000 employees and found 56 percent said they’d personally witnessed or experienced poor behavior or harassment but only six in 10 reported it. And of those, only half were actually investigated.

The reasons for not reporting: 46 percent are afraid of retaliation, and 39 percent said they were not confident the issue would be addressed. Until employers provide fair, safe environments that assure employees issues will be investigated and communicated – without retaliation – employees will remain reluctant to come forward.

DJ: What can be changed in the workplace to encourage workers to come forward?

Muller: Creating a fair, safe workplace requires a commitment to communication and process. Employers must adopt employee relations management practices that include best-practice investigations; consistent documentation; consistent, unbiased treatment of employees; and ongoing communication to let employees know what is happening, even when they may not like the outcome.

Technology and data enable the process, ensuring consistent documentation and properly conducted investigations, as well as analysis of potential areas of improvement.

Addressing challenges like #MeToo won’t happen overnight – but making change requires people, best-practice processes and technology. Companies are starting to take it seriously, and as they prioritize the employee experience, we can expect to see progress accelerate.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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