“Remember, trauma halts possibility. It serves to impede, stagnate, confuse, and kill.”

Tarana Burke is speaking about the trauma of sexual violence and harassment that too many people around the world have experienced. As Burke points out, there are costs to this trauma. Costs to the individual as well as society. In the workplace, specifically, this trauma does indeed impede, stagnate, confuse, and kill which results in huge costs to companies and organizations themselves.

Given that capitalism makes the world go round, it would make sense that sexual harassment and violence in the workplace would be strictly forbidden given the estimated $6 million companies hemorrhage every year due to this harassment. And yet, it’s not. So, the question then becomes, why does sexual harassment happen in the first place and then why does it cost so much?

Why Does Sexual Harassment in theWorkplace Happen?

Sexual harassment and violence start with inequitable gender norms, hierarchical power structures that reinforce the patriarchy, and systematic oppression. Simply put, white, wealthy men hold positions of power in the workplace and are told that they can do whatever they want to women’s bodies and the world in which we live has never challenged that belief. Until the#MeToo Movement.

Globally, men participate in the workforce more so than women. In 2018, female workforce participation fell below 50% standing at 48.5% and yet male workforce participation is up at 75%. Women face additional barriers to employment that men don’t and once they are employed, are more likely to face harassment than their male counterparts. In Australia for example, 39% of the female workforce has experienced harassment compared to just 26% of male. The perpetrators of this harassment? 79% of the time the perpetrator is male. In the United States, 42% of working women have faced harassment compared to 22% of men.

The gap in workforce participation is just one of the many symptoms of a patriarchal society where women are not equal to men. We’ve seen this reinforced over and over again in the United States with the election of a man who has grabbed women without permission and the appointment of a man who committed sexual assault. Globally, we have seen this when Argentina voted to endanger women’s health further by denying them the right to an abortion. In El Salvador where women are imprisoned for having miscarriages. In Sudan where women are sentenced to death for defending themselves against their rapist.

The #MeToo Movement has given women and men who face harassment a space to gather and heal with empathy, but to also stand up and demand justice. Slowly chipping away at the power structures that oppress women and minorities, #MeToo may have not brought these power structures toppling down yet. But as Burke says, “#MeToo is a marathon, not a sprint.” And in the meantime, we still face $6 million in lost revenue per year due to sexual harassment in the workplace.

How Much Does It Cost?

The International Center for Research on Women has looked in to how much sexual harassment in the workplace is costing companies here in theUnited States. In a report released earlier this year and has broken down the different costs. Individual productivity, team performance, recruitment, turnover and transfer costs, litigation, insurance, and brand perception and reputation. This report shows how the effects of trauma thatBurke is talking about equal actual dollars at the end of the day.

Several of these factors are visible costs. We can see what happens to a brand or a company when a figure head is accused of harassment and how much that costs. Others factors, however, are harder to see. Additionally, the report goes on to show that costs of harassment begin as soon as the harassment itself does and those numbers increase when companies retaliate against the survivor, not the accused.

Despite what rape culture tells us about how the way a woman dresses means she was asking for it, rather than being “provoked” by a sexual desire, research grounds the roots of sex-based harassment in a workplace culture that privileges men and fosters harassment. Sex-based harassment is most common in industries dominated by men, which we know from the global workforce participation rates is nearly all industries. In true patriarchal form, men are rewarded at work for displaying stereotypically masculine traits such as assertiveness, aggressiveness, and confidence. This encourages men to display “hegemonic masculine” behaviors such as harassment that are reinforced by unequal power structures. In organizations or companies where accusations of harassment are left uninvestigated or not punished, these behaviors continue as men do not see it as hindering their advancement, only the advancement of their victim.

Sexual violence and harassment should be unacceptable not only because of the astronomical economic costs, but because survivors are human beings that deserve equality.  A world in which sexual violence is unheard of would be ideal, but until that day, there is Tarana Burke and the #MeTooMovement that treats survivors with respect and dignity.

Coby Jones
Coby Jones is a Diplomatic Courier contributor focused on gender justice and equality.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.