The growth of the #MeToo movement in recent months has catapulted the topic of workplace harassment to the front of the national dialogue. The avalanche of stories and testimonies has not only revealed how common these experiences are, but also how widespread the issue is across the business world.
From a public health perspective, the workplace plays a critical role in our overall health and well-being, making it is especially important that we understand the types of policies, or lack of policies, which have allowed these behaviors to exist in professional settings for so long.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently conducted market research on the harassment/violence prevention policies of FORTUNE 500 companies to begin engaging with the private sector on this issue.
The CDC analysis did a meta-analysis on various employer policies (e.g. Codes of Conduct/Ethics) as well as employee feedback on Glassdoor, a website dedicated to employees who anonymously review companies and their management.
As part of the analysis, the CDC looked at various employer policies covering harassment to determine how many devoted dedicated resources and legal protection for those speaking up.
For example, did a company reference a specific training in their Code of Conduct around harassment? What are the different reporting channels an employee can access to speak out about an incident?
Information was collected on more than 30 data elements across Code of Conduct policies, employee benefits packages and national corporate rankings to create an overall picture of how employers invested in harassment-prevention policies.
The second analysis looked at employee feedback on Glassdoor. Using data scraping and visualization techniques, CDC gathered more than 160,000 employee reviews and mapped out the companies where employees or former employees mentioned experiencing harassment, intimidation, threats, or violence while working there.
Overall, the companies that performed the best were in the Technology and Energy sectors, while those who performed the worst were in the Healthcare, Retail, and Financial Services sectors.
The companies that were less likely to have Glassdoor reviews mentioning experiencing harassment at their companies and had more comprehensive employer policies, followed many of these best practices:
- Defining harassment behaviors in the Code of Conduct: Providing examples of inappropriate behavior and describing mock scenarios establishes clear boundaries of improper conduct, especially around behaviors that often fly under the radar (e.g., gender or racial-based jokes, and flattering comments)
- Providing reporting channels outside of immediate supervisors: Multiple reporting channels is critical in a company’s harassment prevention strategy to prevent bottlenecks in the process. Examples include providing access to anonymous hotlines, access to the company’s legal department, and even direct access to the organization’s Board of Directors
- Supporting and elevating women: Empowering women in the workplace can act as an important check on harassment in company culture. This includes investing in professional development programs around women’s leadership, consistently promoting and hiring women, and providing generous benefits around paid-time off for maternity leave, including childcare resources
As companies across the country continue to grapple with allegations of improper behavior in their workplaces, this CDC research could help move the needle forward in certain sectors to help create healthier workplace environments.
About The Author
Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on international economics, climate change, and sustainability.
Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.
He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.