The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Strategies for Eliminating Sexual Harassment in Higher Ed (and It’s Not Simply More Training)

Philosopher Accused of Sexual Misconduct
Former Sports Doctor Pleads Guilty to Sexual Assault
“Title IX Complaints Filed Against Creative-Writing Professor”
“Fifteen Students and Post Docs Issue Statement That Three Professors Created a Hostile Academic Environment in Which Sexual Harassment Is Normalized”
“Reports of Sexism in a University Academic Department”

“Tenured Professor Sexually Harassed Graduate Student and May Be Fired”
Professor Accused of Predatory and Manipulative Behavior”

These are just some of the headlines from higher ed publications over the past couple of months.

Is it hard to believe that higher ed has so many challenges with harassment? Absolutely not. Many of our organizations are very hierarchical, and it’s often difficult to ensure that the desired culture is consistent across campus. Our approach to “dealing with” sexual harassment has typically been implementation of a “required” sexual harassment training program that is designed to help us check the compliance box. I wish I had a dollar for every time in my higher ed HR career a supervisor asked me to implement a training program to help him or her “fix” a workplace problem.

Raising awareness through training is always a good idea, but it has never been, and never will be, the solution that fixes a workplace challenge, particularly one as serious as sexual harassment. So, what are some strategies for higher ed? I’ll offer two:

1) Promote more women to executive leadership roles. A November 27, 2017, article in The Atlantic titled “The 3 Things That Make Organizations More Prone to Sexual Harassment” references something that we all know: “At its core, sexual harassment is about unequal power relations between men and women at work, at school and in society at large. Vulnerability is a hallmark of both who gets targeted and why victims keep silent.”

And according to the November 15, 2017, Harvard Business Review article “Training Programs and Reporting Systems Won’t End Sexual Harassment. Promoting More Women Will,” part of the long-term solution is promoting more women to executive leadership roles.

A CUPA-HR research brief from February 2017, The Gender Pay Gap and the Representation of Women in Higher Education Administrative Positions: The Century So Far, outlined the successes of the last decade and the challenges ahead. Women now occupy almost half of the administrative positions in higher ed but less than 30 percent of the executive leadership positions (presidents, provosts and other senior executive positions). One of the key priorities of our institutions must be to create and sustain a pipeline that enables more women to move into executive leadership roles. Many campuses across the country have made great progress during the last decade, but this progress obviously needs to continue.

2) Current campus leaders must create a culture that does not tolerate harassment in any way, shape or form. Eliminating harassment is not just about tolerance, it is about creating an open, honest culture where every single member of the organization feels valued and supported. If this is the culture we create, harassment does not occur … and if it does, the harasser is quickly removed from the organization. Creating and sustaining this type of culture is not a long-term strategy, it is a required part of our work as presidents, provosts, chief business officers, chief HR officers, department heads, faculty members and other campus leaders every single day.

I hope the heightened awareness that has occurred during the last few months helps everyone more clearly understand that we cannot “train away” our harassment challenges. We must be committed to advancing more women to executive leadership roles and to creating and sustaining a culture that values and supports every member of our campus communities.

Visit our Sexual Harassment Resources web page for links to webinars, articles, blog posts and other resources related to Title IX and sexual harassment on campus.


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