Of the 255 women who said they’ve received unwanted advances in the workplace, 46 percent of them said they’ve spoken up.
Some spoke directly to their harasser. Some even confronted their harasser when that harasser was their superior.
“I told the manager that sent me a picture of his penis that he needed to excuse himself from reviewing me in the future (he was one of 4 or 5 people that worked above me),” a start up engineer said.
Twenty-five percent of 255 women said they spoke to their direct supervisor after the sexual harassment.
“His supervisor asked me what I wanted to happen,” said a woman who works in the legal department of a mid-sized tech company. “I chose to address it directly with the employee. I told the employee that it could not happen again if he wanted to keep his job. I believe his manager reinforced that message. It never happened again.”
Only 48 of the 255 women said they reported an incident directly to HR.
A few -- four -- even said they took legal action.
As for the women who said they did nothing in response to receiving unwanted sexual advances, many said they were afraid it would have a negative impact on their career.
Anne, the woman who alleged that her boss continued to harass her despite her pleas to stop, said she considered turning to human resources. But the head of her HR department was a friend of her boss. She worried her report would fall on deaf ears.
"If I had brought it to her, I don't know that anything would have been done," she said. "If it had been done, it would have been solely for the purpose of staving off a lawsuit for the company and I'm sure they would have found some reason to turn it into my fault."
One woman who responded to KVUE's survey said reporting her harassment had a negative effect on how her superiors saw her work.
“Taking action typically is punished. It resulted in an extremely lower set of review scores than anticipated. I was no longer a team player,” an engineer at a start up said.
Frasure, the HR specialist with Austin HR, said the best thing in preventing retaliation on the company’s end is to have an open door and to effectively communicate with managers who may not know what retaliation looks like.
“It can be, ‘Now I’m treating you differently than before you made the report,’” Frasure said. “It can be more open than ‘I’m obviously not choosing you for a promotion’ or ‘I’m obviously not going to allow you to engage in activities that you feel like you should be allowed to participate in.’”
And she said organizations need to make sure there’s a strong policy in place so managers understand that retaliation is illegal.
Austin Kaplan, a civil rights and employment law attorney, said he sees retaliation too often in Austin.
“If you were wrongfully terminated – for example, you complained about harassment and the company – and we see this unfortunately very frequently -- turns it around on you and fires you for making the complaint,” Kaplan said you have options:
Other respondents said they didn’t report the harassment because they just wanted to forget it or they were too embarrassed to report it.
Many said they did nothing because they believed that it would not have made a difference.
Which brings us to another alarming trend.
Many women said they were “somewhat satisfied” to “not satisfied at all” with their company’s course of action following their complaints.
“Told my manager and was asked if I ‘did anything to make them approach me’ and was pressured into not reporting anything because they didn't want to do the paperwork,” a consultant at a large tech company said.
“He was fired for grabbing my breast. I was then fired for reporting him, at the end of my 6 month temp position,” said a woman who works in a large tech company’s marketing department. “I was one of two not hired and had some of the highest scores. When fired, they told me to not be such a ‘Huggy person.’ To which, I clearly was not, ever.”
Like one woman put it, sometimes “telling someone at the company hurts your career more than theirs.” But many others said “there is no structure for complaint-filing” at their company.
For a lot of women, that means companies don’t have an HR department.
“I spoke to his partner at the tech accelerator. They didn't have HR, so they had me speak to the guy who made an advance in a group setting. He denied everything and blamed it on me,” a woman who works in the marketing department of a start up said.
Frasure said companies sometimes don’t realize how crucial it is to have a human resources department.
“Oftentimes companies think, ‘We don’t need HR here because we’re a cool company, everybody gets along, we don’t have any issues,’” Frasure said. “But the thing people don’t understand is you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know what can ultimately get you in trouble.”
Austin HR works to keep those companies out of trouble by either supplementing a company’s small HR department or by providing services to companies with no HR department.
“There are so many laws and things that organizations need to comply with that they don’t know unless they have an HR professional supporting them,” Frasure said.
Women who responded to the surveys also complained that their HR department is made up of their superiors, making it a little awkward – to say the least – to report an incident.
Frasure said it is imperative that employees know they have a place to turn if they don’t feel comfortable with their HR department.
“Ultimately it needs to be a neutral individual who can respond to any concerns or complaints that someone might have,” Frasure said. “So I think if the manager is also the HR representative then the organization needs to determine what is that next level of reporting. Is it the COO? Is it the CEO? Who is it?”
So, some women either don’t feel comfortable reporting incidents at their – possibly nonexistent – HR department or they weren’t happy with their company’s solution to their report. But knowing what they do now, what would they have done differently in response to the incidents?
“Probably nothing,” a woman who used to work in tech sales said. “It's too difficult for a woman in a male-dominated company to make waves and still keep her job/get promotions/get raises. You suck it up, or you leave.”
But what should a company do when a sexual harassment incident is reported? What should you expect from your company when you file a complaint?