Tackling Sexual Harassment with Mediation
Facing the problem of sexual harassment means facing the fact that we find it everywhere. From Hollywood, to gender-imbalanced workforces (such as in STEM industries), to workplaces where power imbalances between junior and senior employees are abused (for example through mentorship in universities) sexual harassment is everyone’s problem. It’s important to remember that sexual harassment can affect ALL genders because sexual harassment is first and foremost about the abuse of power. Wherever we see power imbalances there’s a chance that sexual harassment may occur. Sexual harassment mediation acknowledges the isolation and disempowerment of victims and intervenes to find a solution. Individuals and groups facing abuse and inappropriate behavior often do not have adequate support or non-damaging means of resolving their conflict. So, when HR is seen as representing a company’s interests, where do people turn? Often people get lawyers involved, and conflict moves out of the workplace, leaving the roots of the problem to fester, unresolved. However, there is another way, using mediation.
A Third Way: Mediation Establishes Trust
The best way to establish trust and work towards a sustainable solution to tackle sexual harassment is to involve a neutral third party. Mediators are trained as neutrals who facilitate conflict resolution by empowering parties to take control of their dispute. Mediation can help dismantle toxic group dynamics and resolve one-on-one conflicts without needing to go to court and cost time, money and energy.
Mediation Alleviates the Costs of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment has huge costs. On a personal level, sexual harassment can exacerbate or cause physical and mental health problems. It undermines personal safety and individuals’ basic confidence in themselves and their work. Sexual harassment can be viewed as a waste of three vital resources: time, talent and money.
Talent: Since the Harvey Weinstein revelations, victims have spoken out about being driven from the workplace by a culture of fear, abuse, and belittling treatment. Sexual harassment is a public health problem which is depriving companies of some of their best employees.
Time: It’s already recognized that countless hours of productivity are lost due to stress-related mental health issues. Studies strongly show that cutthroat workplaces racked up bigger health costs and foundered when it came to employee loyalty. https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive One study found that women in male-dominated workplaces exhibited much higher levels of cortisol, which can result in health problems. https://phys.org/news/2015-08-women-male-workplaces-psychological-stress.html
Money: Lost wages by victims of harassment and big settlements paid out by companies to victims of harassment are just some of the costs of sexual harassment. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/as-harvey-weinstein-takes-a-leave-of-absence-heres-how-much-sexual-harassment-costs-companies-and-victims-2017-10-07 Stress-related health costs and lost productivity also result. Victims suffer financially when they can’t advance in their chosen career. Companies often take out expensive insurance to cover potential sexual harassment cases. There’s no question that negative workplace environments have real economic costs to employers and employees.
Mediation Is Built to Handle All Kinds of Disputes
Mediation doesn’t just resolve conflicts between two people, it is a mechanism for overhauling conflict dynamics in larger groups. At Boileau Conflict Solutions we approach all conflict using psychological and mathematical tools to understand the deeper interests involved.
If an employee reports their case to HR early in the dispute, mediation should be immediately sought. Boileau Conflict Solutions can intervene to diffuse conflicts early and often. Conflicts become more complex over time, and one conflict may divide a whole workplace. The advantage of a psychoanalytical approach comes into play in early interventions: at Boileau Conflict Solutions we tackle the emotional roots of conflict, which often involve self-interest. The more neutral the environment, the more parties can be encouraged to let go of their own self-interest to come to a solution. It is very difficult as an employer to mediate impartially (say for example, the accused is in senior management, and senior management is handling the investigation). Involving a neutral third party signals a commitment to fairness.
Mediating Serious Disputes
As in some of the Harvey Weinstein accusations, some disputes are so serious that they have gone far beyond the reach of HR. Some cases may be about to go to trial. Some cases in deadlocked litigation are ordered to mediation. Sometimes, the victim wants compensation but it is difficult for an employer to pay, or the insurance company disputes coverage. At Boileau Conflict Solutions, we can intervene in serious cases at these critical points. We assist parties in looking at the history of the case and the resources available to them to settle cases. We use mathematical approaches and game theory to analyze the interests involved.
When there is persistent low-level harassment, mediation is a powerful intervention that preserves relationships and fosters healthy workplace culture. Mediation can enter into an environment as a preventative where there may be complaints and concerns. Mediation can help to broker agreements between management and employees or between employees in conflict. Mediation can help to forge sensitive and smart policy on sexual harassment before there is any conflict such as in an early stage start-ups.
Mediation is a More Effective Solution for Dealing with Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment only seems new because it’s in the news: in reality, companies have been quietly settling with victims for years. If disputes go to court, the costs are even higher. Many companies are turning to liability practices insurance to help to cover the costs of sexual harassment. But there is a better way.
Why mediation, not Litigation?
Unlike litigation, mediation is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is flexible enough to tackle a wide variety of sexual harassment cases. Sexual harassment comes in many forms with unique sensitivities that the law is a crude instrument to tackle. If insurance is involved, sexual harassment claims are more difficult to settle than other personal injury claims. Sometimes they are difficult to prove, or the nature of the harassment doesn’t fit the coverage. This is why mediation is a good option to tackle difficulties before they become major conflicts.
Reasons to mediate your sexual harassment case:
A Gentler, more Flexible Process
In mediation, you decide how you would like the process to be structured. Unlike in court, there is no requirement for you to be in the same room as your harasser. Mediation can tackle issues which may affect victims’ peace of mind such as job security and addressing problematic work culture. Often victims speak up at risk of retaliation. These concerns can be addressed in mediation. Sometimes parties may have close working and personal relationships and may want relief from harassment without damaging these relationships in a court battle. Mediation also fits around your work schedule, unlike court.
Shorter Duration so you can get on with Your Life
Mediations resolve within a session or two, so the dispute costs less time and stress. You can get your compensation or get an agreement to go back to your former job if you left it. Getting compensation to pay for therapy or lost wages may be an urgent concern for some people, especially people in the entertainment industry where visibility is key to success.
Mediation privacy encourages upfrontness and willingness to settle. For some victims, a private venue to work out their dispute may be preferable to reliving their trauma in public.
Mediation is cheaper by the hour than hiring an attorney, and the faster turnaround makes the fees less likely to stack up.