Entry-level job seekers can help fight sexual harassment: Tips to keep the pressure on employers

Posted January 30, 2018 by


Seemingly countless allegations have popped up in the news related to sexual harassment. From engineers and athletes to actors and business leaders, the collection of stories demonstrate an unbalanced power dynamic across industries. As you search for jobs, how do you know whether an organization is a respectful place to work? And in addition to simply avoiding dangerous workplaces, how can you be a part of the solution as an entry-level job seeker or employee to fight sexual harassment in the workplace?

We spoke to Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks, 2005) and Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers and Other Office Idiots (Sourcebooks, 2008), and to Faith Rothberg, CEO of College Recruiter. Together they have decades of experience advising young professionals and championing solutions to difficult recruitment challenges.

What students and grads should know about entering the working world

Faith Rothberg: Much like the thinking that America was in a “post racial” state when Obama got elected, we’ve similarly deluded ourselves that we also live in a “post sexist” world. With the viral MeToo movement, along with all kinds of scandals breaking, young women and men, along with all of us, are realizing the reality of the workplace. That said, young people generally think of themselves as invincible, and assume that the problem will only affect other people. Young graduates are probably not so much nervous as they are more aware.

Vicky Oliver: It’s always hard to confront a sexual harasser, whether you are an entry-level worker or someone who has worked at the company for 20 years. The MeToo Movement, though, makes it clear that you are not alone. Bear in mind that your word alone will probably not be enough. You will need to show documentation. Whether you feel you are being personally harassed or feel you have stumbled into a workplace that promotes the atmosphere of harrassment, keep copious records.

How can an entry-level job seeker or employee feel empowered to respond if she or he confronts sexual harassment?

Reject a job if you sense a problem of sexual harassmentOliver: If you confront sexual harassment during the hiring process, I would advise not to take the job because chances are the situation will just deteriorate after you are hired. However, once you arrive at a job, it’s a different matter. If a particular person is harassing you, it’s important to say “No”, and keep saying it. Sometimes this will be enough to stop the behavior. If, however, the behavior persists, then you will need to keep a detailed record of who said what to you at which time, and what you said back to stop the behavior. If it is a more generalized atmosphere of sexual harassment, you may need to take photos, for example, of your boss’s salacious screen shots or calendar, or whatever the problem is to prove your point.

If the behavior persists, you need to keep a detailed record of who said what to you at which time, and what you said back to stop the behavior. 

Rothberg: Some sexual harassment is blatant and easy to spot, and can therefore be easier to respond to. For example, if a recruiter makes jokes about sex or asks questions about your sexual preferences. Other inappropriate or unlawful behavior might not be termed harassment, such as asking whether a female candidate is planning to have a baby soon.  An appropriate response might be, “I don’t see how that relates to the job, but I am happy to answer any questions about my qualifications.”

Also read: A guide for entry-level job seekers to combat bias in the hiring process

What can you do to keep the pressure on employers to take this issue seriously?

Oliver: You can ask if the company has been taking any steps to define a sexual harassment policy, that is, how victims and perpetrators will be treated. It would be a good idea to do some homework first on the company where you are interviewing. For example, if you are interviewing at a company where a high level CEO (or other) has just stepped down due to his or her harassing workers, then asking this question is especially appropriate. If, on the other hand, you are interviewing at a company that has no record of this, the question could be seen as extraneous or possibly distracting.

Keep up the conversation to fight sexual harassmentRothberg: The best thing we can all do is keep talking about the problem openly. If you hear a friend complain about harassment, talk to her or him about their options to stay empowered. When you read about organizations that have been found to cover up cases of harassment or discrimination, you can share those stories. Please be careful, however, to check your sources! You wouldn’t want to spread false information about a company. You can even inquire recruiters about how their organization fosters respect and a culture of inclusion. No recruiter would share confidential legal information but as you compare organizations in your job search, their various answers to this question will be telling.

How can you support other job seekers and employees?

Rothberg: There is still a stigma around being a victim of sexual harassment, or even being on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior. If you see colleagues being treated inappropriately, speak to them, but be careful not to pressure them to take action or to place any blame on their end. Check in with them to discuss their options, and if they make a formal complaint to HR, step up to confirm those complaints. Even more importantly, find your own voice when you see someone behaving inappropriately. A simple statement like “that was not okay”, or “are you sure you meant to say that?” can cause the harasser to doubt his actions.

At College Recruiter, we advise entry-level job seekers to ask employers for references just as employers ask you for references. Speak with current employees about the work environment and ask those employees for names of former employees. Call them too. Recruiters often research you and other candidates beyond the references you provide them, and you can do the same.

Find your own voice when you see someone behaving inappropriately. A simple statement like “that was not okay”, or “are you sure you meant to say that?” can cause the harasser to doubt his actions.

Oliver: By taking on a “Don’t blame the victim” mentality. For too long the victims have been blamed. It’s time to turn that around and put the blame on the harasser.

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Posted in Advice for Employers and Recruiters, Career Advice for Job Seekers | Tagged