Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Staffing Industry: The Problem

The world is waking up and raising their hand to say, “Me too.” Right now, more than ever, there’s a lens on the issue of harassment and sexual misconduct. Therefore, it’s an opportunity to take a leap forward and bring forth, out of the shadows, these issues and how they make us feel. The #metoo movement isn’t just for women. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and country of origin, no one has the right to cross the line. It is telling of where we are as a people that we need a #metoo movement to align and be comfortable with saying “No.”

The staffing industry, like most sales-oriented cultures, is similar to Hollywood and the casting couch in this regard (I’ve experienced it first-hand and have defended members of my teams). But the movement isn’t confined to certain industries. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says nearly a third of the 90,000 complaints it received in 2015 included harassment allegations. They also estimate that 75% of all workplace harassment goes unreported. And a 2016 study conducted by the EEOC statistically predicted that one in four people are affected by workplace sexual harassment. And this is only for internal workplace harassment. A large part of sexual misconduct takes place outside of the internal workplace, involving clients, prospects and partners in settings such as happy hours, dinners, industry events or meetups — and even over skype and email.

The prevalence of sexual misconduct in our society becomes harder to combat in industries where it has been normalized. Unfortunately, it has become embedded in the staffing industry, especially in recruiting and sales. And that makes unfortunate sense. It is a people industry, not only in that people are the product, but also in that to be good in the staffing industry, you have to like being around people. You have to like meeting new people and developing relationships. Not to mention that it is a competitive industry. Recruiting and sales are a numbers game and there is an unspoken rule that comes along with that: Do whatever it takes to get the deal. This makes the industry ripe for sexual misconduct. The line between professional and personal blurs makes it hard to see when you or someone else has crossed it.

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The first step to combating harassment and misconduct is admitting that the problem exists. Next is consciously deciding what to do about it personally and, if possible, through the company. This means taking a good look at how you represent the company during client meetings and the like. Taking business partners to strip clubs to conduct meetings may make you seem like “the cool one” but imagine your boss’s expression when they see that on your expense report.

And I’ll leave you with this final thought: requiring an annual or bi-annual online anti-harassment training does little to nothing to help people identify and deal with sexual harassment and misconduct. Why not? Find out in my next post!

Dana Look-Arimoto

Dana Look-Arimoto
Dana Look-Arimoto, founder and CEO of Phoenix5 LLC, is an executive and leadership team coach, Talent Eco advisor, speaker and author of Stop Settling, Settle Smart: Rethinking Work-life Balance, Redesign Your Busy Life. She can be reached at dana (at) phoenix5th (dot) com.

Dana Look-Arimoto

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