What will it take to en­sure vic­tims of work­place mis­con­duct are heard?

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY DAN SCHNUR Note to read­ers: Each week through Novem­ber 2019, a se­lec­tion of our 101 Cal­i­for­nia In­flu­encers an­swers a ques­tion that is crit­i­cal to Cal­i­for­nia’s fu­ture. Top­ics in­clude ed­u­ca­tion, healthcare, en­vi­ron­ment, hous­ing and eco­nomic growth. Sta

In the fall of 2017, al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct against Har­vey We­in­stein, Roger Ailes, Al Franken and many oth­ers roiled the so­cial, cul­tural and political land­scape. Al­most two years later, we check on the progress of the #MeToo rev­o­lu­tion, ask­ing what steps should we take to en­sure vic­tims of work­place mis­con­duct are heard and that there is ac­count­abil­ity for those who en­gage in such un­ac­cept­able be­hav­ior?

“Work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment takes a sig­nif­i­cant neg­a­tive toll on em­ploy­ees, cul­ture and the bot­tom line,” said Deb­bie Mes­loh, pres­i­dent of the San Fran­cisco Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women. “The #MeToo move­ment has opened a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion and in­creased aware­ness about the preva­lence of work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment, the ne­ces­sity to con­front it and what com­pa­nies and or­ga­ni­za­tions can do to try and pre­vent it.”

Sev­eral Cal­i­for­nia In­flu­encers praised pol­icy re­forms de­signed to crack down on work­place mis­con­duct, but also warned how much work re­mained.

“While so much re­mains to be done in this area, it seems we are turn­ing a cor­ner,” said for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Women Lead Pres­i­dent Cas­san­dra Walk­erPye, who cited new laws re­quir­ing work­place train­ing, strength­ened le­gal stan­dards and a pro­hi­bi­tion on non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments for sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault. “The good news is most of these poli­cies have been ad­vanced in a bi­par­ti­san man­ner by leg­is­la­tures all around the coun­try. As they should be.”

Assem­bly­woman Monique Li­mon (D-Go­leta) called for fur­ther leg­is­la­tion to ad­vance vic­tim pro­tec­tions and fa­cil­i­tate the re­port­ing of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

“More of­ten than not, vic­tims of work­place mis­con­duct stay silent, fear­ing in­ac­tion or re­tal­i­a­tion,” Li­mon said. “In an ef­fort to sup­port vic­tims, we must pro­mote a cul­ture of trust and de­velop a trans­par­ent sys­tem of re­sponse that demon­strates to vic­tims they do not need to be afraid to step for­ward.”

Li­mon’s col­league Jesse Gabriel (D-Los An­ge­les) em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of im­prov

ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tory process once mis­con­duct has been re­ported.

“We should man­date train­ing for hu­man re­sources pro­fes­sion­als to help them con­duct more ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions into work­place mis­con­duct,” Gabriel said. “Im­prov­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tory process will… give em­ploy­ees greater con­fi­dence that… in­di­vid­u­als re­spon­si­ble for mis­con­duct will be held ac­count­able.”

Caitlin Vega, leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor for the Cal­i­for­nia La­bor Fed­er­a­tion, em­pha­sized the ob­sta­cles that work­ers face when re­port­ing mis­con­duct.

“Work­ers who do come for­ward risk a re­duc­tion in hours, a move to the night shift, or an even more hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment,” said Vega, who stressed the role of la­bor unions in pro­tect­ing against work­place abuse. “A worker alone is un­likely to chal­lenge the boss and if she does, she will prob­a­bly face re­tal­i­a­tion. But work­ers stand­ing to­gether can de­mand fair treat­ment, look out for one an­other on the job, and take col­lec­tive ac­tion to de­mand change.”

Busi­ness com­mu­nity lead­ers agreed to the need to pro­tect em­ploy­ees from sex­ual mis­con­duct. Donna Lu­cas, the pres­i­dent of Lu­cas Pub­lic Af­fairs in Sacra­mento, praised the state’s re­quired sex­ual ha­rass­ment pre­ven­tion train­ing.

“As a small busi­ness owner, I’m leery of any state man­dated train­ing, but the two-hour ses­sion was very help­ful,” Lu­cas said. “Done right, it pro­vides a healthy fo­rum for em­ploy­ers to un­der­stand that ev­ery work­place needs ha­rass­ment stan­dards and a sys­tem that al­lows em­ploy­ees to safely voice con­cerns over work­place is­sues.”

Cal­i­for­nia Cham­ber of Com­merce Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent Jen­nifer Bar­rera un­der­scored the need for em­ploy­ers to be vig­i­lant and re­spon­sive to any such po­ten­tial threats.

“All em­ploy­ees de­serve the right to go to work with­out fear of ha­rass­ment,” Bar­rera said. “The (#MeToo) move­ment high­lighted the need for ex­ec­u­tives, man­agers, and su­per­vi­sors to change the cul­ture in the work­place, start­ing from the top down, to en­sure it is well un­der­stood there is no tol­er­ance for mis­con­duct.”

But Maria Me­jia, Los An­ge­les di­rec­tor for Gen Next, ar­gued that elim­i­nat­ing broader gen­der in­equities would be nec­es­sary to make the work­place safe for women.

“With an econ­omy so dras­ti­cally skewed in fa­vor of the ben­e­fit of men, it should be of no sur­prise, that we con­tinue to see work­place en­vi­ron­ments where the vic­tim­iza­tion of women is com­mon,” Me­jia said. “Women de­serve to be safe at work and the true road to vic­tory starts with em­pow­er­ing their eco­nomic pres­ence with bet­ter jobs, com­pet­i­tive pay, paid parental leave poli­cies, and el­e­vat­ing more and more of them to vis­i­ble lead­er­ship po­si­tions across a spec­trum of in­dus­tries.”

David Townsend, man­ag­ing part­ner of Sacra­mento’s TCT Pub­lic Af­fairs, out­lined an even big­ger chal­lenge.

“Work­place mis­con­duct is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women in our cul­ture,” Townsend said. “We have to have tough le­gal pro­tec­tions and sup­port sys­tems that pos­sess more power than the per­pe­tra­tors hold to force ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior. But, like racism, we have to chal­lenge the core as­pects of our cul­ture that con­done this ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

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