This post focuses on the second tenet of the Pledge: We commit to believing the person coming forward, investigating the incident, and taking appropriate disciplinary action based on the findings.
The Pledge – We commit to:
- Cultivating an open and inclusive culture for employees to feel comfortable coming forward when an incident occurs.
- Believing the person coming forward, investigating the incident, and taking appropriate disciplinary action based on the findings.
- Not forcing or mandating silence or confidentiality for the person coming forward.
- Removing relationships and cutting contracts with companies that perpetuate harm.
Why is this tenet important?
We alluded to the importance of incident reporting and outcomes in the previous blog about culture. Still, we separated it to double down on the importance of this process for your employees’ safety. Like sexual harassment outside of work, sexual harassment in the workplace essentially goes unpunished. Approximately 95% of incidents end with no penalty to the person that perpetuated harm. Note that this data only reflects sexual harassment and does not address other types of harassment found in the work environment.
Lack of accountability sends a message to your employees: you can report an incident, but it will likely not go anywhere. This message is heard loud and clear as 90% of employees that experience sexual harassment do not tell their organization. Additionally, 75% of reporters experience retaliation because of this disclosure. Everyone needs to feel safe at work. Unfortunately, that assurance is not guaranteed (and rarely found).
After the surge of the #metoo movement, women in insurance felt fear and tightening of openness from multiple angles. EPLI (employment practices liability insurance) policies limited or restricted coverage or wording, and work environments became increasingly hostile. Rather than understand that the movement allowed women to feel empowered to raise their voices, the feeling in the industry created the mentality that women were looking for compensation or notoriety. Based on the above statistics, this is not the case.
Understanding the Data of False Reporting
While there is still much debate over false accusations regarding sexual harassment, university studies show the false reporting of these claims to fall anywhere between 2% and 10%. When false reporting does happen, it is damaging to both parties. When it does not occur, it is typically only detrimental to the party coming forward. Studies that report false accusations use data from dropped charges, reactions to trauma, and self-blame. While these reasons do not deem the incident false or fake, their inclusion in the statistics inflates this number leading to unsatisfactory outcomes for reporters.
Dropped charges are just that: dropped. Whether it is lack of funds, bullying, fear, or emotional trauma keeping the reporter from moving forward, an abandoned charge does not indicate a false accusation. Reactions to trauma are harder to measure, but data supports the psychological effects of this trauma, including memory loss or inability to recall events.
Lack of evidence also falls into this category. Many incident reporters may not have the mental wherewithal after a traumatic event to supply the amount of evidence investigators need to believe them. In these instances, the case is released and filed as a false accusation.
Lastly, self-blame is a defense mechanism that incident reporters typically employ to rationalize their experience. This reaction can stem from the culture asking the reporter to evaluate what they did to contribute to the incident. Many reporters will make everyone comfortable and may self-blame to help others avoid discomfort. Whatever the reason, self-blame denigrates the reporter, undermines their credibility, and keeps the case in stasis.
Believing is Step One
Suppose the organization believes the reporter and the investigations move forward. It is crucial to ensure that the people investigating and making decisions about the outcome of the inquiry understand the intersectionality of the issue. If the investigators do not share a marginalized identity with the reporter, they may not understand their perspective. The incident committee should reflect these identities or call upon experts to do so.
Suppose you do not have a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) expert in-house. In that case, many consultants in the workplace can help your team correctly understand, evaluate, and make decisions based on the results of the investigation. There are numerous resources online to start making decisions and considerations in your own company based on understanding and implementing intersectional practices. See our Resource Page for more information.
After the Investigation
Investigating the incident and understanding the intersectionality of persons involved is not the last step. It is important to remember that a vast majority of cases result in retaliatory behavior. Whether the retaliation is from a superior, the accused, or coworkers, data suggests that as many as half of reported cases can face adverse reactions. Not all retaliation is blatant. Many reporters could be moved from a lucrative contract, replaced on a team, or hidden in a different department to avoid further harassment. This behavior tells other employees that if you come forward, you may not get to keep your position, standing, or income potential after you report.
These outcomes damage the trust your employees place in your ability to communicate and be transparent. They can also create a toxic work environment because poor behavior goes unabetted. Internal and external retaliation lead to increased dissatisfaction and retention issues. Ultimately, these outcomes are damaging to both your culture and your bottom line.
There are many resources available online for how to investigate an incident appropriately. We’ve included some in the links below. The key at this stage is to have a plan, execute it, and do so with as little bias as possible. The EEOC also has guidance on what to be mindful of as you work through this process.
The investigation is still one facet of this tenet. To effectively work through this tenet and improve your culture in this area, you need to act after the investigation. Whether the outcome confirms or denies the allegations, all parties need to be aware of the process and the potential consequences. At this point it is up to you and your organization to determine next steps. Your manuals and procedures may already dictate a result based on the findings. However, if you are a smaller organization or were not explicit in your documents, you can call upon experts. Consult your legal department, HR department, and DEI specialists to determine an appropriate and fair outcome.