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Opening Statement of Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum

Welcome back to the members of our Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. We are gathering almost two years since Chair Lipnic and I released our Co-Chairs Report based on the Select Task Force work. I also want to extend a warm welcome to our witnesses who will help us think through some of the tough legal and policy issues that have arisen in this #MeToo moment, as well as educate us about new ways to prevent and respond to harassment.

During our work with the Select Task Force, we often reflected that one of the biggest roadblocks to stopping harassment in the workplace was convincing people that we had a serious problem of harassment. That is why we highlighted this quote from James Baldwin in our report: "Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced."

We needed the country to face what was happening in our workplaces in terms of harassment. Well, the country is doing that now. People are talking about, and people are listening to, stories of harassment to an extent that has not happened before. We have the chance now to leverage this moment to create significant and sustainable change.

And the change must be to stop harassment on all bases, not just sex. The revelations about sexual harassment have been essential in raising the visibility of this issue. But shame on us if we don't use this opportunity to change the structures and cultures of our workplaces so that people do not experience harassment based on any protected characteristic - including race, national origin, disability, religion, age, sexual orientation or gender identity. The charges EEOC receives tells the real story of the breadth of harassment -- in fiscal year 2017, EEOC received 12,000 charges of sex-based harassment, 9,000 charges of race-based harassment, and 13,000 charges of harassment on other grounds. This was the broad focus of our Select Task Force work and it was the broad focus of the report Chair Lipnic and I issued in 2016.

In our work with the Select Task Force, we talked about how to nip unwelcome conduct in the bud - before such conduct rose to the level of being illegal. Based on that work, we offered a roadmap in our 2016 report. We described ways in which leaders can shape workplace culture so that the collective understanding in a workplace becomes that harassment is simply not acceptable. We offered ideas for holding people accountable - including individuals who engage in harassment, supervisors who fail to respond appropriately to reports of harassment, and workers who retaliate against those who report harassment. And we offered concrete ideas for policies, procedures and training, complete with helpful checklists.

We are now in the second stage of our work. The EEOC was ahead of the curve when we released our report two years ago. Now, we are continuing to lead so that sustainable change to stop harassment can be made.

First, we are spreading the word about the roadmap we offered in our 2016 report. People are hungry for ideas and we are providing them. No one needs to start from step one in understanding how to prevent harassment in the workplace. They can use our report and build on it. What is most important is that organizations take the report's recommendations and apply them to the unique needs of their different workplaces or industries. A good example of that is the report issued last week by the Federal Judiciary's Workplace Conduct Working Group. That working group of judges and administrators used our 2016 report as a foundation but then did the necessary research to come up with recommendations and timetables that would fit the unique aspects of the federal judiciary. This is the type of effort we need to see more of and we stand ready to provide technical assistance to those efforts.

Second, we are digging deeper into the legal and policy issues that people have been asking us about. The original goal of the Select Task Force's work was not to focus on legal issues, but rather to collect information on workplace harassment and come up with creative ideas for prevention. But we are reconvening today partly because we want your wisdom on some of the thorny legal and policy questions we are now being faced with.

However, we are not just digging deeper into legal questions. We are also digging deeper into creative ideas to prevent harassment - whether through practices focused on a particular industry, a particular workplace, or the use of technology. We have witnesses here today to educate us on these practices and to disseminate this information to the general public.

Third, we are leading by putting ideas from our report into practice. Chair Lipnic described a number of our efforts both internal and external to the EEOC. I want to underscore one of those efforts: the development of our Respectful Workplaces training. This is a new training that adopts the recommendations of our report for effective and creative trainings and that we began to offer in October 2017. The training includes one component that describes an employer's policy regarding unacceptable behavior, explains how to report such behavior, and provides information on what the employer will do after receiving such a report. This is what we call "compliance training" in our report. But the training also includes components on creating respect in the workplace and empowering bystanders. These components are very skills-based. The respect component facilitates discussion amongst attendees about the behaviors and words that generate respect and their responsibility for contributing to respect in the workplace. It also teaches skills for giving feedback about disrespectful behavior and skills for responding to such feedback. The bystander intervention component provides concrete options and skills on how to intervene to stop harassment. This may consist of options for stopping the harassment in the moment, confronting the harasser afterwards, talking to someone else who can do something, or helping the target of the harassment bring a report. The training provides realistic options tailored to the individual workplace and the unique power dynamics that may be at play in any particular situation.

Finally, we are bringing together these efforts because we recognize that enforcement of the law is not enough to bring about the necessary culture change in our workplaces. Obviously, enforcement remains the core mission of the EEOC, not only to remedy harassment that has occurred but also to serve as a deterrent to future harassment. And we are gratified when we can help people get substantive relief, either through our confidential administrative process or our public litigation. But helping people get relief after they have suffered harassment is never as good as having them not suffer the harassment in the first place.

We stand now at a unique moment. We can feel it, we can see it, we can hear it. Our challenge is to use this moment well.

We can do that. We have a road map given the work we have done at the EEOC. We have the attention and commitment of the range of different actors in society that we need - employers, employees, unions, governmental agencies, philanthropic foundations, religious and community groups, the media and the ordinary person on the street. Together, we can challenge that energy to create significant and sustainable change.

Let's meet this challenge.