March is Women’s History Month, and it seemed appropriate to talk about what is so difficult for all of us to talk about; the abuse of sexual power in the workforce. Women and men both struggle to dialogue about the intensity of the emerging #MeToo movement and the deluge of reports coming forward after being hidden for so long. However, my impression is no one is really surprised.
For many reasons, the public admittance of the problem (with origins since the beginning of time) causes discomfort, as well as fear. I have talked to many male colleagues, some of whom admit their own foibles; and I have talked to many female colleagues, some of whom have carried scars for life. And, collectively, regardless of politics or creed, most recognize that it is time to write a new narrative focused on the deepening of mutual respect.
Let’s examine the facts and consider the effects:
An ABC News-Washington Post poll in October 2017 showed that sexual harassment in the workplace is a full-blown epidemic. It found more than half of all American women, 54%, experienced unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances at some point; 30% have endured such behavior from male colleagues and 25% identified men with sway over their careers as the culprits. Given these statistics, out of the total population of women in the U.S. – 78 million have been sexually violated at work. Of course, these are only reported cases.
The actual economic cost of sexual assault in the U.S. is $127 billion dollars per year; this is the price of treating chronic mental and physical health problems, addiction, workforce disability, housing transition, criminal activity, and family challenges. That means that over the course of 20 years – sexual assault has cost the United States 2 trillion five hundred forty billion dollars.
However, as a corporate leader, trainer, advocate, mother to a daughter, and Co-Partner to Rise With Honor, I can attest to the reality that statistics can never convey the hard road of recovery which, for many and most women, is not an easy journey. The costs are usually much much higher, reaching deep into family life; even across generations.
Given that sexual assault in the workforce is a global problem not to be ignored, how can institutions, churches, government, schools, and companies find solutions proactively, without being caught up in the spirit of “gender blame” and without sidelining the movement to a womanist issue? More importantly, how do we as workforce teams cultivate justice, healing and higher standards of behavior at the same time?
The abuse of power in the workforce – ALL abuses of power – can only be addressed through a comprehensive approach that benefits all: Education. Sharing. Access to Support. Policy. Equal Enforcement. Forgiveness. And Fortifying the Strengths and Bond of the Entire Team.
Yes, my idealism speaks, as I know this approach will most likely be a rare response, at least right now. It will take time for the world of work to really understand the direct correlation between heightened mutual respect and productive corporate culture. But I am hopeful, as I suspect are the 78 million U.S. women (and multiple millions more around the world) who strive daily to rise with honor.
This month, we might all think about these things. Not just because it is the right thing to do, and long overdue, but because our entire economic future is guaranteed to be brighter when each of us has the chance to realize our professional potential – without inappropriate intimidation.
Have the talks. Be the change.