Happy International Women’s Day! This year’s theme is building a gender-balanced world. The #BalanceforBetter campaign will continue for the rest of 2019 to inspire women and men to strive for a “gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage . . . .” Better balance between the genders is a timely theme because sexual harassment is a symptom of the power imbalance between the genders. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that working in a male-dominated environment and working in a setting with significant power differentials are two of several employment situations associated with high rates of sexual harassment and assault. For example, 1 in 4 active duty service women experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination.
The power imbalance shows up in all types of workplace scenarios. If you haven’t watched the RAINN #ThatsHarassment videos, I recommend you watch them. The videos are based on real incidents of sexual harassment in a law firm, a bar, a photo shoot, and a TV show set. When I first saw these videos, the common thread I noticed wasn’t just the sexual harassment, it was the balance of power. The harassers in these videos had significant advantages over their victims in these scenarios. The bartender gets harassed by a male co-worker tasked with training her on the first day of work, the young model was pushed past the boundaries of what’s appropriate in a room full of people who didn’t stop the older and experienced photographer, the new junior employee alone in the office with the boss, and the costume dresser dealing with a famous actor’s bad behavior were all in vulnerable positions when the harassment occurred. Each one of these victims may have asked themselves,
If I report this, will I lose my job?”
A common question that comes up when a sexual harassment story hits the news is “why didn’t she report it sooner”? Fear of losing her job is a big reason, being passed over for a promotion, losing her credibility, and being blackballed because she spoke up against an abuser in a powerful position are also reasons women stay quiet. If more women occupy the same positions as the men in the #ThatsHarassment videos and in leadership positions, we can hope for more respectful workplaces that bring full equality to women. Until then, the same power imbalance in American culture will continue to lend itself to situations where powerful men will harass vulnerable women.
If you think you have been the victim of sexual harassment, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you. Our attorneys can assist you at any stage. Please contact us to set up a confidential consultation.