Aurora forum looks at ways to fight sexual harassment
As the "Me Too" movement gains strength, employees in the Fox Valley need to know that sexual harassment claims in the workplace will be investigated thoroughly, participants at an Aurora forum on the issue said Thursday.
"There needs to be a good policy on the books that is inclusive and is not just about sexual harassment but also reflects race, age and natural origin," said Michael Cramer, a human resources attorney with the legal firm Ogletree Deakin at the event at Waubonsee Community College's downtown campus. "People have to know that complaints are going to be taken seriously."
Deakin joined U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville), Julie Bretz of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and human resources consultant Laurie Huspen to discuss the problem of sexual harassment on the job.
Foster said that "the effect of the 'Me Too' movement has been huge" and that he has been "blown away by the number of women willing to step forward and tell their story."
"This affects all areas of the economy from Wall Street to Main Street as well as Congress and the White House," he said.
According to Foster, now is the time to deal with the sexual harassment problem once and for all.
"Time is indeed up," he said about harassment. "Each person needs to know (they) can pursue a career without worrying about predatory behavior and not be afraid to come forward."
Cramer hopes the recent focus on the issue will "make it less of a problem as people have less trepidation about coming forward."
"The next generation is already viewing this issue differently and there is greater transparency as a result," he said.
Huspen said training to fight sexual harassment "needs to be embedded in the culture" and demands more than "a once-a-year presentation to be truly effective."
She said that harassment is "not talked about enough" on the job and that training needs to be more interactive.
"People have tended to cover this up or make a joke about it and that's not OK and shows people are not educated about this enough," she said. "The pendulum has begun to swing the other way, but you can't train people by having them sitting in front of a computer screen. They have to be engaged in groups and this has to be interactive."
Bretz agrees that "traditional training will not work."
"There needs to be interactive training and a focus on what people should do, as opposed to what they shouldn't," she said. "And supervisors need to be trained differently than employees."