EEOC Holds Public Meeting to Discuss Harassment Prevention

On October 31st, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held a public meeting at agency headquarters on the topic of harassment. Titled "Revamping Workplace Culture to Prevent Harassment," this meeting brought together several practitioners and researchers to share approaches for prevention, as well as addressing harassment – whether experienced or witnessed.

Harassment, including sexual harassment, is a major, long-standing focus of EEOC. Therefore, the Commissioners opened the meeting by sharing progress since the start of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace in 2015 and subsequent release of the Co-Chairs 2016 Report, as well as an update on the recently released statistics from fiscal year 2018. I am sure no one will be surprised to learn that EEOC reported a 13.6 percent increase in sexual harassment charges and a 50 percent increase in lawsuits filed alleging sexual harassment. Hits on EEOC’s sexual harassment webpage doubled since the start of the #MeToo movement one year ago. In addition to sharing FY2018 statistics, Commissioners also provided comments, including Commissioner Feldblum who asked, “How can we leverage this moment?”

During the meeting, Commissioners heard from seven witnesses regarding their work aimed at harassment prevention and changing the workplace culture. Summarized below is a quick introduction to each of the witnesses and key takeaways from their testimony.

  • Alejandra Valles, Secretary-Treasurer, SEIU United Service Workers West (USWW) - accompanied by Veronica Girón, a janitor and leader in the Ya Basta Campaign, spoke first. Both Girón and Valles shared how their approach focused on changing the culture from the “bottom up” to address the issue of harassment of janitors, mostly Hispanic females, on the night shift. Janitors were utilized to design the campaign, provide input through focus groups, and create trainings that included realistic scenes - allowing employees to both learn about harassment and assault, as well as to practice saying “no”. The focus was to empower the most vulnerable population to both recognize and address actions, including how to file a complaint.
  • David G. Bowman, Partner, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, shared the importance of organizations utilizing a multi-faceted campaign that focuses on (a) leaders setting the right tone and (b) the importance of conducting a workplace culture assessment. These assessments can help the organization to identify themes that need to be addressed; for example, offsite issues that go unseen or micro aggressions. Bowman shared that the work must first start with the goal(s) of the initiative. Bowman also reiterated the importance of conducting focus groups and interviews before creating the assessment.
  • Anne Wallestad, President and CEO, BoardSource, provided recommendations for board leadership to ensure accountability. Wallestad shared several key elements to keep the board engaged in the issue of harassment given that they are removed from the day-to-day work of the organization. Wallestad’s recommendations included, 360 team-feedback on CEO, review of staff retention metrics, and most importantly a whistleblower policy to empower victims in reporting of harassment by Executives. Wallestad also felt a mechanism for addressing harassment by a board member was also important.
  • Christine Porath, Associate Professor, Georgetown University, discussed the benefits of civility training. Based on her research, incivility behaviors often escalate into harassment. Porath shared that training focused on civility engages all employees, instead of just those perceived as harassers, and should include an element of coaching.
  • Rob Buelow, Vice-President, EVERFI, described web-based training as a tool for harassment prevention programs. Buelow shared the importance of taking a “public health” approach to training, which is focused on prevention as opposed to typical harassment training that is focused on definitions and laws. Trainings are focused on empowering employees with a focus on the work that is being done by the organization to create a good environment and contain a focus on bystander intervention. Buelow shared the benefit of these trainings is that they can meet employees where they are, allow for custom examples and feedback, and provide a private setting for reflection of values and receipt of real-time insights. Pre and post results also help the organization to identify and address gaps. Buelow also reiterated that these training would only be the “tip of the iceberg” in a prevention program and that organizations also need policies, executive support, and evaluation of personnel data (e.g., turnover, complaints, etc.), among other things. 
  • Mary C. Gentile, PhD, University of Virginia, described Giving Voice to Values (GVV), which focuses on helping employees to act on values that they already have so that they can adopt appropriate behaviors. The goal of GVV is to change the unconscious process that prevents employees from intervening when they see bad behavior. The approach uses peer coaching.

For more information on the meeting – the submitted statements, witness biographies, and the meeting video can be found at EEOC meeting page. Additionally, information regarding FY2018 numbers and resources for employers and employees, can be found on EEOC Newsroom page.

By Amanda Shapiro, Associate Principal Consultant, at DCI Consulting Group

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