In my previous article, How to Identify Sexual Harassment, I explained how different types of data that you've already gathered can help you uncover potential sexual harassment and other trouble that may need to be addressed in order to create a harassment-free workplace.
If you look at the data on known claims, turnover, absence rates, gender distribution, promotion rates, pay equity, engagement scores, and survey response rates you will probably find a place or two that you might want to investigate further.
Getting an understanding of your data
First, make sure you understand what the data says and how to make sense of it. For example, you may have high attrition rates in a particular department. It could be due to the fact that it is made up of mostly entry-level positions and younger workers who naturally move around more. So, look for benchmark data and look at your data over time before you sound the alarms.
Follow up with pulse surveys or general questions to gauge where problems are and what type you are dealing with. Start with broad questions that get to the broader culture issues that people are more comfortable asking and that can indicate bigger problems.
Some good questions for a pulse survey could include:
- Do you feel like you can be yourself at work?
- Do you feel comfortable in your working relationships with others?
- Do you feel respected at work?
If you get some No's, then follow up with some more specific questions for those groups, such as:
- Have you observed behavior at work that made you uncomfortable?
- Have you experienced behavior at work that made you uncomfortable?
In these anonymous surveys, avoid asking people directly if they have been harassed. Despite anonymity, the question will make people feel uncomfortable and create an expectation (and potential legal obligation) that if they say yes, you will take action. But you won't know who it is based on the anonymous survey, so asking directly can create confusion and difficulty in what to do next.
Instead, ask more general questions like the ones above to narrow down the department or managers whose employees are having difficulties. Then go talk to people in that department and explain you are following up on the survey because there were responses that caused you concern. Let them know you want to know more and how you can help.
For more on how to effectively use surveys, see Connie Costigan's article: Using Talent Management to Create a Harassment Free Culture.
What to do when you still need clarity
If the story is still not clear after talking to people, then discuss the issue with your leaders and get your friendly employment lawyer involved. How you proceed from here can involve risk and liability and it's good to have legal advice.
You may also get some pushback and concerns about opening cans of worms and borrowing trouble. Lawyers often prefer ignorance because when you know of potential discrimination or harassment, then you have to do something. But that's the point.
The law requires us to provide harassment-free work environments. And all of this data is discoverable. So, if you don't connect the dots and investigate, know that the plaintiff's counsel will.
Using your data to understand trouble spots can help you address problems before they become legal claims, help improve culture, and show you care about addressing and preventing sexual harassment.
If you would like to read more, read our other blog posts in this series. And for an even deeper dive, watch the on-demand version of a webinar I recently delivered with Connie Costigan, VP Brand Advocacy at Saba Software.
SHRM Webinar: Sexual Harassment at Work: It's a Culture Issue (To listen on demand, follow the link to register.)