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Tackling Workplace Incivility

It's more subtle than you think

Since the Harvey Weinstein allegations brought the #MeToo movement in the public eye, rightfully deserved since it was started 10 years ago, there’s been a focus on women’s treatment in the workplace. This topic was the focus of a recent seminar held at Arizona State University.

The seminar took place in the downtown law building with local lawyers who handle sexual assault cases and Dr. Allison Gabrial with The University of Arizona who did a study on incivility in the workplace.

It may be hard to conjure up an image in your mind of what incivility looks like. I was the same way. Going into this, I had no idea what incivility was or how it would even be related to sexual assault and other inappropriate conduct at work.

Dr. Gabrial defined incivility as an rude or unsociable speech or behavior at the workplace. This is more subtle actions such as backhanded compliments. She found in her study that more women engage in incivility towards other women.

Shocking right? But if you put this into context as a subtle behavior or place it as something that happens with speech specifically, it makes more sense. Unfortunately women seem to take part in this sort of subtle yet backhanded insults.

Dr. Gabrial compared this to the in which women see each other as sisters at arms competing for the same resources at work. Of course men can engage in incivility as well as other because other explicit or obvious signs of harassment are illegal. Comforting right?

While this whole seminar focused on a darker part of a woman’s life at work, seeing these lawyers talk passionately about helping victims of sexual assault and other harassment was reassuring.

There are good people out there that care, that believe you and they’ll fight for you.

This seminar, for me, boiled down to one central question- What can we as workers do about sexual assault and incivility in the workplace?

Speak up. Tell a co-worker you feel comfortable with. A manager. Someone from HR. Tell someone.

Because not only is the victim of the assault or other mistreatment being impacted, so are other employees. Sexual assaults, if known within the work environment, creates a toxic space that no one wants to be in.

Many women, and even men too, fear speaking up because they are afraid of retaliation. Eventually the situation can become so toxic that employees begin leaving without reporting the issue. This leaves the door wide open for other people to go through the same harassment.

Let me be clear- someone else’s abuse is not the fault of the past victim.

Our society has made it so hard for anyone to come forward. People expect victims to just deal with it and still do their job.

Dr. Gabrial’s research showed that 48% of people who experienced incivility at work decreased their work effort. Imagine that percentage for those experiencing sexual assault at their workplace.

The obvious question would be what do we do to stop this? Mary Jo O’Neill is a regional attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and believes that employers need to set in place a reward system.

Imagine a world in which people were actually rewarded for coming forward? Not only that but that victims were believed?

Those at the seminar also strongly advocated for a stronger, independent, HR entity at work. The current HR department is set up to protect the company, not individual employees. This could result in claims not being investigated to the extent they should be.

Another very important action we can take is speaking up for each other. It shouldn’t just be the person experiencing the harassment speaking up. It should be anyone who sees it.

We’re stronger together  and this applies to any setting. Women who work together, you need to stick together. If one of you succeeds then you’ve all succeeded. No more Queen Bee syndrome. By creating a community at work that everyone can feel safe in, we can create a more positive environment for everyone. We need that, no, we deserve that.


Also published on Medium.

Davyn is a journalism student at Arizona State University. During her free...