Be sure to use specific behavioral questions instead of broad categories – such as sexual assault, unwanted sexual attention, or rape – that may be poorly defined or understood differently by survey respondents. There are some standardized questionnaires available as well as those developed for specific industries which can be adapted to your needs. Importantly, make sure you give employees the choice to omit questions, so they don’t feel coerced. Likewise, be sure to communicate that the responses are confidential, and ensure that support is available for those who feel affected when responding.
2. Identify the risk factors
Identify the factors that might be playing a role in facilitating or preventing incidents of sexual harassment. Some factors can be identified through the survey, but not all. For example, there is evidence that harassment of women is more likely to occur in male-dominated workplaces and be targeted toward employees in precarious work arrangements.
But research has found that many factors influence the prevalence and types of sexual harassment in the workplace. These include the industry, occupation, group composition, and workgroup or wider organizational culture. Instead of measuring them all, select a study that has examined the occurrence of sexual violence in your industry and measure the factors that are considered in it.
When it comes to interpreting the results of your own workforce survey, consider if the sample is representative, but keep in mind that you cannot measure every contributing factor to the problem.
3. Share knowledge to engage the workforce
Lastly, it is important to engage allies by sharing the results. When people understand the types of sexual harassment occurring within the organization and comprehend the consequences for direct victims, for teams, and for their workplace, most are willing to collaborate to prevent them.
In my experience, sharing the results allows for the reflection on strategies, such as direct interventions by managers, and it also engages people on many levels of the organization. These conversations have also been key to assessing leadership commitment and readiness to implement proactive strategies.
Moreover, discussing results can also be useful to conduct awareness sessions for new employees, who are likely to be more receptive. This will make norms and expectations of behavior clear.
Ultimately, sexual harassment is a problem that organizations must take seriously. And although a climate of zero-tolerance is ideal, organizations would benefit from understanding the specific problems they have to face in their own workplaces as a starting point. From there, steps can be taken to promote change and build the culture of mutual listening and respect that is essential for workplaces to thrive.