In 2012, I opened my business here in Racine. Since then, this community has afforded me and Mrs. Myers’ Reading Room an opportunity to grow and thrive. I’ve also enjoyed the support of many talented and driven community members, colleagues and friends. Among them are some amazing women leaders who are part of TEMPO Racine, a professional association committed to furthering the development of female leaders in our community.
As current president of TEMPO Racine, I’ve watched closely these past several months as women across the country have given voice to an issue that has been quietly taking place in workplaces for decades. The #MeToo movement has encouraged and empowered women to speak out about their experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace.
While we watch these stories unfold in the national media, TEMPO Racine and TEMPO Milwaukee have joined together to better understand and build awareness right here in our own backyard.
Last month, TEMPO Milwaukee shared results of a survey of their members, revealing that 68 percent of its 97 respondents had, at some point in their professional careers, experienced sexual harassment. Our own TEMPO Racine survey revealed that 57 percent of participants experienced sexual harassment.
One might presume that entry-level women are more likely to be harassed in the workplace, or that women with considerable work experience and confidence are more likely to report inappropriate behavior, but that’s not always the case.
Surprisingly, 50 percent of TEMPO Racine respondents who experienced sexual harassment said that it occurred while they were in middle to upper management positions. TEMPO Milwaukee had very similar results: 35 percent of respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace said it happened while they held upper management positions, and 36 percent described experiences while in middle management.
As a female leader in the Racine community, what I find more devastating are the individual stories behind these numbers. One TEMPO Racine member shared, “The harassment I have experienced has ranged from direct physical advances to direct text and email messaging from a man encouraging me to have a sexual relationship him.” Another respondent said, “My boss would corner me in my office or the hallway and try to kiss me.”
This is unacceptable.
As professional female leaders in this community, TEMPO Racine is committed to empowering professional women to advocate for a workplace free of harassment. This month, we presented our survey results to our membership and began a robust dialogue about how we can and should respond when confronted with harassing behavior as well as what can be done to prevent it from occurring in the first place. We must engage in a holistic approach to establish a culture of respect where harassment is not tolerated.
Although we are an organization made up of professional women, our membership believes it is imperative that we invite our male colleagues to join this conversation. We are all part of the fight to stop workplace harassment. Workplace culture has the greatest impact on preventing harassment, or allowing it to flourish, so male and female leaders must shape that culture together. As we assess, prevent, and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace, we can work together to create solutions.
As leaders, let’s build workplaces free of harassment. Let’s ensure harassment prevention efforts are given the necessary time and money. Let’s write these efforts into our strategic plans, budgets and calendars. Let’s champion an engaged workplace where supervisors, co-workers, clients and customers are empowered to confront harassment instead of ignore it. A recent EEOC study found that only “6-13 percent of individuals who experience harassment ever file a formal complaint. That means that, on average, anywhere from 87-94 percent of individuals did not file a formal complaint.” We can do better.
We must work to remove the stigma of reporting, while also dissuading social and professional retaliation. We must provide accountability so that those who engage in harassment are held responsible in a meaningful, appropriate and proportional manner. To quote the EEOC study, “If weak sanctions are imposed for bad behavior, employees learn that harassment is tolerated, regardless of the messages, money, time and resources spent to the contrary.”
Racine is a strong, close-knit community where neighbors, colleagues and friends work together for the common good. My hope is that organizations in each and every community will engage in honest dialogue about this issue, provide opportunities for victims of harassment to share their stories, and work together to develop real solutions.
TEMPO Racine’s mission is to advance the impact of female leaders. The organization serves professional women by providing opportunities for women in leadership roles to network, learn about trends in business, and serve as mentors to each other and in the community.
Tammy Myers is the president of TEMPO Racine and Mrs. Myers’ Reading Room.