Issues,  Legal Practice

Addressing Sex Harassment in the Workplace.

If you have Netflix and an hour and half to spare, you must watch Anita. The documentary is based on the Anita Hill testimony during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation. As attorneys, women, and women of color, it is such a necessary education. In 1991, I was too young to know or understand what was happening.   Then growing up, post-Anita, the general belief was that sex harassment in the workplace was wrong and kind of just assumed everyone knew that from the get-go; I obviously had no real knowledge of how bad it really was for many women. What Anita shows is that because of her testimony more people were exposed to the truth about harassment in the workplace and it kicked our society into gear to actually actively say: this behavior isn’t right.  Regardless of opinions vis-à-vis the testimony, I think it’s a must-see because it gives a great history lesson and overview on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Some forms of harassment seem to have diminished slightly due to an increased awareness on this topic (as well as real consequences for the offenders)—so much so that description of harassment from decades ago seems cartoonish and impossible. Unfortunately, it’s still a problem that almost all women who have had jobs (especially in the restaurant industry) have experienced –that is just statistics.

Knowing that the likelihood of harassment in the workplace is so high for so many women in various industries it makes me want to know—as someone with a law degree, what can I do? I know that simply being a lawyer won’t solve all of society’s ills, but this degree and license does give us extra tools to fix some problems—so what can be done?

addressing sex harassment in the workplace
One. Get educated. Knowing what harassment is and isn’t a good first step. Additionally, we should learn why most of us have been conditioned to question and discredit a victim. Whenever we find ourselves dismissing complaints or questioning a victim’s “motive” we should pause and ask ourselves why we’re so keen on supporting an alleged offender. The sooner we become comfortable and confident in supporting people without power, the stronger we all will be.

Two. Speak up. Remembering that there is power in numbers, it’s so vital to speak up when something is wrong even if it’s not happening to you. Overcome the fear of seeming rude when you call people out on bad behavior. Push back against bad comments or aggressive actions. This is likely the most difficult part because it requires a bit of fearlessness that we aren’t all able or prepared to portray. And I don’t mean that in a negative way—I totally get feeling like you have to put up with certain behaviors in order get your bills paid, but we should strive to fight back as much as possible in whatever capacity we can because we shouldn’t have to decide between earning a living or being harassed.

Three. Advocate. I know we all don’t work in public interest or in policy—but there is so much advocacy that can be done even if we never officially represent anyone. Vote for interests that further the advance of gender equality; make it a goal to take on pro bono cases (even if you can’t do it now—be on the lookout for opportunities to do it sometime in your very long legal career); advocate at home by encouraging family and friends to stand up for their rights or by calling out relatives that you know aren’t behaving correctly. The main point here is that even though we can make headway in the courtroom, there are a lot of changes that can happen organically within our own community—there just needs to be a guiding voice, and who says that voice can’t be yours?

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