Our Action Plan
Society needs an action plan when it comes to dealing with sexual misconduct at every level: private organizations, public institutions, governments, the courts, their leaders and the victims who have experienced the continuum of harm produced by these incidents.
We especially look to women-led organizations to take a prominent role in showcasing the need for change and the solutions that can bring it about.
Organizations where women play a top role in governance and management, or as entrepreneurs, often have a unique understanding of the barriers to advancement in the workplace and the challenges of overcoming them. They know what it’s like to be met with a constant succession of closed doors. They also know that a hand up or a second chance can make a big difference in turning a life around, especially one that has been decimated by the invidious effects of sexual misconduct.
To these ends, here is our six-point Action Plan.
1 Hire Us Back™
In too many cases involving sexual misconduct in the workplace, the offender gets to stay while the victim is forced to leave. The fact is that standing up and speaking out often comes at the cost of a woman’s job and livelihood. When enforcing our right to be free from inappropriate conduct results in a cloud of bad references and other reprisals from a vindictive employer, it can be career-ending.
It is the fear of these outcomes that prevents too many women from coming forward and reporting sexual misconduct in the workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that 75 percent of victims never report sexual misconduct out of fear of damaging their careers or losing their livelihoods altogether. The workplace is littered with the career casualties of too many women who have stood up and spoken out in an effort to make it safer for others. That is wrong on every level. Ultimately, society itself pays the price when so many talented, hard-working women are sidelined. It needs to change. The ZeroNow Campaign’s™ call to Hire Us Back™ hopes to do that.
We call on our best employers, and especially women-led organizations, to help survivors of sexual misconduct re-enter the workplace and resume careers that have been stolen from us because we showed the moral courage and strength of character to stand up. We have too much experience and talent to leave us on the sidelines and deprive society of our contributions.
2 Adopt sunshine legislation and policies on the reporting and disclosure of sexual misconduct statistics.
All organizations, starting with law-making bodies, government boards, commissions, agencies, departments and all publicly funded universities and hospitals, should be required to annually disclose the number of sexual misconduct incidents reported to them, the outcome of each complaint and any financial settlement paid.
We call this the sunshine law for sexual misconduct. We think it can prove to be a very effective disinfectant for the epidemic of sexual misconduct that plagues our workplaces. The government of Canada adopted our recommendations on the publication and disclosure of sexual misconduct statistics in its recently amended anti-harassment legislation. The government Manitoba also adopted the provision. It is only possible to measure progress when it is observable. Governments at every level and major organizations, including universities, post-secondary institutions and health care providers all need to move into the transparency zone when it comes to combating sexual misconduct.
3 End abuse of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
These now-infamous devices effectively gag women and prevent us from alerting others to potential unsafe workplace practices, while protecting offenders and the organizations which failed to take action against them. They also make it impossible to fight the efforts of previous employers to retaliate by preventing us from explaining the reason for possible adverse references. Giving up more rights should not be the price women have to pay for standing up against sexual misconduct. Nor should misbehaving employers be able to silently treat sexual misconduct settlements as just another cost of doing business.
4 Criminalize reprisals against women who report sexual misconduct.
We know that fear of retaliation frequently deters women from coming forward in the first place, and that those of us who do often experience blackballing in our industries and professions that prevents us from finding another job or resuming our chosen careers. The U.S. EEOC reports that in at least three out of four cases, some form of retaliation is claimed. At the very least, these widespread practices against the victims of workplace sexual harassment should attract much stiffer monetary penalties and reputational sanctions from the courts and human rights tribunals.
The current standard of requiring virtually incontrovertible proof of retaliation almost in the form of a written admission by the offender should be modified to acknowledge the real-world obstacles that confront victims who seek to overcome negative whisper campaigns on the part of previous employers. Central to the change in laws and practices that must occur is recognition of the fundamental principle that speaking out against sexual misconduct should not be at the cost of a woman’s economic livelihood, reputation and self-esteem.
5 Amend government legislation and organization policies to cover historical complaints.
The #MeToo era has seen a surge of women finally finding the courage to come forward and report sexual misconduct abuses that occurred years, sometimes even decades, ago. Many are shocked to discover that current laws and organization policies do not apply to them as former employees. In Canadian legislation for federally regulated workplaces, for instance, the law specifically states that it applies only to current employees. This leaves women who suffered an incident under a previous employer in some ambiguous land where their rights are not clear, and their recourse to human rights tribunals is typically no longer available. All this needs to change if society is to be true to the commitments it is making to women at this time of #MeToo awakening. We urge the extension of all rights and privileges that are enjoyed by current employees to former employees who are making historical claims. This includes bringing human rights legislation up to date with #MeToo realities and allowing for applications to be made that are currently barred by limitations periods.
6 Extend anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws.
Currently, EEOC protections in the United States do not cover women-led businesses that are acting in a supplier or contractor capacity with larger organizations. We call this the Garrison Keillor loophole.
It was confirmed — again — in a recent jaw-dropping case where the male CEO of a health care consulting firm told a potential contractor in an email that it would be “inappropriate to do business with a woman-led organization.” This was after she was approached by the company and had several meetings where she shared proprietary data in the hope of landing a contract with the company. In refusing to act, the EEOC noted “People who are not employed by the employer, such as independent contractors, are not covered by the anti-discrimination laws.”
This also means that women who are considered under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be a “protected” class insofar as employment discrimination based on sex is concerned are really an unprotected class as far as the U.S. government is concerned.
Did they forget that we are actually living in the 21st century? When women-formed and -led businesses make up the largest proportion of new business creations, it is intolerable that they are not protected from sexual assault or sexual harassment by the clients with whom they are doing business, or that they can be discriminated against and denied economic advancement just because of their gender.
We also believe that the minimum threshold number of employees that U.S. companies must have before federal anti-discrimination laws and EEOC remedies are triggered should be removed. The attack on a woman’s dignity when sexual misconduct occurs is not diminished because she is self-employed or because she works in a small business.
If you are a journalist following these stories, a victim of sexual misconduct in the workplace, or a business leader interested in giving its casualties a second chance at rebuilding their careers and lives, we’d like to hear from you.