There is an article in the most recent edition of Glamour magazine on a recent survey regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. I want to cite two results which were that 96% of all women in the workplace reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment within the past year and 86% of women in the workplace changed some routines due to the concerns they had regarding the harassment. I don’t know what the results would be if this question were asked in Tribal organizations but from my experience in working with a number of Tribes I know it would be very similar. While there has been a lot of progress made since the Anita Hill hearings regarding Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, we still have a ways to go.
I remember one incident where an elder who was well respected in the community started to say some offensive things to some of the women in the program where he worked. This was brought to the attention of the E.D. director but it was minimized and not dealt with. Part of this was due to this person being such good friends with some of the leadership where he was part of the old boy network. Overtime the harasser became the executive director for the organization and at this point he ended up touching several women inappropriately. This time they threatened to file a lawsuit against the organization and so the leadership finally took action and terminated him.
Some Tribal organizations take pride in the fact that there are so few sexual harassment complaints that are filed. This may be a reflection of the organization having good policies to deal with this issue but it can also mean that some staff have filed a grievance and they did not get a fair hearing. It is important to remember that the vast majority of sexual harassment cases are never reported.
In order to address sexual harassment in a proactive way these are some of the steps you should take to create a zero tolerance work environment for sexual harassment. While I started off by stating how it impacts women it is important to note that men are also victims as well.
1) Have training on sexual harassment for all staff. If you have a larger staff you may want to have a separate training for supervisors as they have a special responsibility to identify the sexual harassment and also to make sure they have done all they can to address it.
2) Make sure your sexual harassment policy is comprehensive and meets the legal requirements. Have the staff trained on the policy so they know what their rights are. A well written policy is very helpful but it isn’t worth the paper it is written on if it is not enforced fairly and consistently. Some of the rules should not apply to some of the staff some of the time.
3) Make sure staff understand that the harassment is more about power than sex. One example of this is Quid Pro Quo where a supervisor may be sexually harassing a subordinate and then eventually the victim is given preference for certain work assignments.
4) Tie the training back to cultural values. For example respect is a traditional value that all Tribes have and give examples of what that looks like in terms of how we treat both men and women in the workplace.
For more information on this topic see trainings on Sexual Harassment and Creating a Healthy Organization at www.redroadleadership.us