Most companies have done nothing to fight sexual harassment in #MeToo era, study finds

An American Psychological Association survey found that just 32 percent of Americans said their workplace has done something to fight back against workplace sexual harassment during the #MeToo era.
An American Psychological Association survey found that just 32 percent of Americans said their workplace has done something to fight back against workplace sexual harassment during the #MeToo era. Creative Commons

The #MeToo movement has taken down some of the biggest names in the U.S. — but it hasn't resulted in tangible changes for the majority of workplaces in America.

That's according to a new survey from the American Psychological Association, which found that just 32 percent of people in the U.S. said their employer has done anything new to keep their workers protected from unwanted sexual advancements in the #MeToo era.

Researchers interviewed 1,512 U.S. adults and asked about their employment status and what changes have been made in their workplace to cut down on sexual harassment.

A majority of Americans said their employers haven't changed anything since accusations of sexual harassment have been leveled against famous people such as producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey and journalist Matt Lauer.

That finding is dispiriting for David W. Ballard, director of the American Psychological Association's Center for Organizational Excellence.

“The #MeToo movement has given business leaders an opportunity to finally take real action addressing a complex problem that has been pervasive for generations,” Ballard said in a press release. “Our survey — as well as anecdotal reports — shows that too few employers are making comprehensive efforts that can have significant impact."

In total, 10 percent of respondents said their employer kept the same training but added new steps — while 8 percent said they now have a new and stronger training. Seven percent said their workplace had a meeting with all employees to discuss the topic.

But of those who said their workplace has made changes, the most common response was that the employers simply reminded workers of training and resources that have always been in place, the survey found. Eighteen percent of respondents gave that answer.

That's still concerning to Ballard.

"Avoiding the issue is bad for employee well-being and business, but so, too, is a narrow, compliance-based approach," he said. "We know from psychological science that relying solely on mandated training designed primarily to limit the organization’s legal liability is unlikely to be effective.”

The survey found some positive changes for those who said their workplaces have lately worked to reduce harassment.

Just under 80 percent of those who said "new steps were taken" at their job also said they are more likely to report sexual harassment if it happened to them — compared with just 35 percent of those in companies that didn't take any new steps. Seventy-six percent of those in the first group said their employer provides "necessary" mental health treatment, while just 36 percent in the second group said the same.

And the survey also found that people feel more confident in reporting sexual harassment if there are women in the upper ranks of the company's leadership.

Overall, 16 percent of respondents said they have been a victim of sexual harassment at work, while 20 percent said they have seen it.

Ballard said fostering a work environment without sexual harassment is also good for a company's bottom line. Those in companies attempting to tackle harassment are more likely to be satisfied with their job, motivated to do their best work and recommend their workplace to friends and acquaintances who are looking for a new job, his study found.

"Leaders in a psychologically healthy workplace model civility, respect, fairness and trust," he said. "In an organizational culture where every employee feels safe, supported and included, people can be their best, and that's good for people and profits."