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Meeting of 6-20-16 - Public Meeting on Proposed Reboot of Harassment Prevention Efforts

Written Testimony of Chai Feldblum
Commissioner, EEOC

What we just heard from Mr. Gill and Ms. Morales are the reason we are here today.

No one - no one -- should have to endure what Mr. Gill and Ms. Morales endured. And yet, so many people across our country are still experiencing events like this. They are experiencing them not only on the basis of race and sex, but also on the basis of religion, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.

That is why Commissioner Lipnic and I have spent the past 18 months studying harassment in the workplace and writing the report we present to you today.

Chair Yang, thank you for coming up with the idea of convening a task force to study harassment, and asking me and Commissioner Lipnic to lead that. To every member of the Select Task Force, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the time and resources you have given to this project.

We want our report to have a game-changing impact on workplace harassment. But for that to happen, we must start here, in this room, by garnering your support for our recommendations to reboot workplace harassment prevention. And we need not only your support, but the engagement and support of many other societal actors - employers, employees, unions, academics, advocacy groups funders, and community leaders. We therefore present this report to you -- and to them.

Our Select Task Force had two goals: 1) collect information about workplace harassment that would be useful to know and 2) develop, if possible, new ideas for preventing such harassment.

We first needed to decide what "harassment" would mean for purposes of our study. We chose to define harassment as unwelcome conduct in the workplace based on characteristics protected under employment civil rights laws - even if such conduct did not rise to the level of legally actionable harassment. Our goal was not to explicate legal issues around harassment. It was to find creative approaches for stopping unwelcome conduct before it became illegal.

So what is the prevalence of workplace harassment based on characteristics protected under employment anti-discrimination laws?

Here is a disturbing fact: There is little prevalence data on workplace harassment on bases other than sex. There is some data on sexual orientation and gender identity harassment; very little data on racial and ethnic harassment; and next to no data on harassment based on disability, religion or age. We hope one outcome of this report is that funders will support new research to give us that information.

There are a large number of studies on the prevalence of sex-based workplace harassment. As you will hear from Professor Cortina, the most conservative estimate is that 1 in 4 women experience "sexual harassment." More accurate estimates of sex-based harassment range from 40% of women who have experienced unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion to 60% of women who have experienced sexually crude conduct or sexist comments.

Houston, we have a problem.

What is also disturbing is that while some targets confront their harassers (and that often helps), the more common responses are to avoid the harasser, downplay the gravity of the harassment, or endure the behavior. The two least likely responses are to complain about the behavior to a supervisor or to file a formal complaint. Indeed, upwards of 85% of people never file a formal complaint. This is not a good situation.

What about solutions?

We have several sections of our report that focus on solutions. I will highlight three of them.

First: actions to prevent harassment must start from the top. Leaders of an organization -- private or non-profit, large or small - must communicate a sense of urgency about preventing workplace harassment. They must communicate this through words, policies and procedures that create a culture in which harassment is not tolerated.

But that is not enough. For workers to believe their leaders are authentic - that they mean what they say -- there must be accountability.

This is what accountability looks like: If an individual has engaged in harassment, that individual is sanctioned in a manner proportionate to the harassing conduct. For managers and front-line supervisors, it means that such individuals are measured by how well they deal with reports or observations of harassment, including receiving accolades when they deal with such situations well.

Second: We need different types of training. Employers must move beyond what we call "compliance training" - training designed to teach employees what is unacceptable conduct in the workplace and how to report it. As you will hear from Commissioner Lipnic, we believe such training is an important component of a holistic harassment prevention effort. But compliance training on its own is unlikely to prevent workplace harassment. Such training may increase workers' knowledge, but it is unlikely (on its own) to significantly change their behaviors.

For changing workers' behaviors, we believe it is useful to explore two additional types of training -- workplace civility training and bystander intervention training.

As you will hear from Professor Cortina, many employers offer workplace civility training as a way to reduce bullying or conflict in the workplace. We need more research on whether such training can prevent harassment, but early studies show promise.

Educational institutions have been offering bystander intervention training for a number of years, and so we studied that training to see if it might be applicable to the workplace. We believe bystander intervention training is not only applicable to the workplace - we believe it can be a game-changer in the workplace.

What does bystander intervention training do?

1) It teaches bystanders to recognize potentially problematic behaviors. In the workplace, this overlaps nicely with compliance training.

2) It creates a sense of collective responsibility. In the workplace, this means a culture in which workers believe no one should be a passive bystander in the face of harassment.

3) It provides a sense of empowerment by giving bystanders skills and confidence to intervene. In the workplace, this means teaching concrete intervention skills.

4) It provides resources that bystanders need to support their intervention. For example, in the workplace, it means ensuring that workers who intervene are rewarded and not retaliated against.

I will conclude with a third, and perhaps our most audacious, recommendation: that EEOC explore the launch of an "It's On Us" campaign for the workplace.

The "It's On Us" campaign has taken off on college campuses across the country. It is a campaign that encourages every person to become an engaged bystander in preventing sexual assault.

We should explore a similar campaign for the workplace. To succeed, such a campaign would need the active engagement of many societal actors - including, at a minimum, employers, employees, unions, advocacy groups and community leaders. What we propose is that EEOC be a catalyst in helping to launch such a campaign.

Launching an It's On Us campaign in the workplace would not be a small effort. But why would we go small - when the problem is so big?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present these aspects of our report. I look forward to listening as my colleague, and co-chair, Commissioner Victoria Lipnic, presents additional aspects of the report. On a personal note, I want to say how much I have enjoyed working with Commissioner Lipnic on this effort. It gives me hope for our political process when I see how the two of us can share perspectives, learn from each other, and work towards a common goal. With that, I turn it over to Commissioner Lipnic.


Closing remarks by Commissioner Chai Feldblum

When I read a book, I often turn first to the acknowledgements. It gives me a window into the life course of the book - the people the author talked to, the materials the author read, the people who provided support.

I urge you to read the acknowledgments of this report. You will see our work was done with the help of many people. Please also read the appendix where we list the names of the witnesses who talked with us. We are in their debt.

I want to thank every current and past staff member of my office and Commissioner Lipnic's office who helped with this effort. Of course, I want to do a special shout-out to Sharon Masling, from my office, and Jim Paretti and Donald McIntosh from Commissioner Lipnic's office. This work could not have happened without them.

Professor Robert Bies, a professor of management at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, who talked with the Select Task Force, included a slide in his PowerPoint with this quote from James Baldwin:

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

To me, that quote captures the essence of our work.

The problem of harassment often seems intractable. But that is not a reason to turn our faces away from it or to keep doing only what we have done before. If anything, it should make us redouble our efforts to prevent this scourge in our workplaces.

And let there be no mistake: harassment is a scourge. No individual should have to come to work fearing that he or she will be humiliated or taunted or physically hurt because of a characteristic protected under our laws.

Leaders can take important steps to create a workplace culture in which harassment is incompatible with the values and expectations of the workplace. Indeed, I hope employers across the country will adopt our recommendations for ensuring accountability in the workplace, which is the best way for leaders to reinforce their expectations.

But ultimately, it falls to all of us to do our part to prevent harassment.

I think the quote from James Baldwin resonated with me partly because it reminded me of an admonition I had grown up - something that Rabbi Hillel, a rabbi who lived over 2,000 years ago, said:

Here is what he said:

Im ein Ini li, me li?

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

To me, that means people must be able to come to work in the fullness of their identity, and know they can stand up for themselves in a system that will hear them and help them if they are harassed for who they are.

And then Rabbi Hillel said: Uh kshani lazmi, mah ani?

If I am only for myself, what am I?

We are all "bystanders" to activities that take place around us. But it's the adjective in front of the word "bystander" that matters. We can be passive bystanders or engaged bystanders. Wemake that choice.

We want to be - and we deserve to be -- in workplaces where workers have the motivation, the feeling of empowerment, the skills, and the sense of safety to stop and prevent any harassment that they see. That is what we should be striving for.

After finally Rabbi Hillel said:

Im lo achshav, ah marti?

If not now, when?

Exactly. If not now, when?

Thank you so much.