Steps to Address Sexual Harassment in Health Care

By Harvard Business Review
February 25, 2019

Here are five actions that organizations, and their leaders, can take to create an equitable work environment. 

A hierarchical structure, a male-dominated environment and a climate that tolerates transgressions make an organization prone to sexual harassment. Medicine has all three. Academic medicine, compared to other scientific fields, has the highest incidence of gender and sexual harassment. Thirty to 70 percent of female physicians and half of female medical students report being sexually harassed. 

Here are five actions that institutions can take to create a safe work environment:

1. Assessment: Thoroughly and repeatedly measure the nature, prevalence and severity of harassment and discrimination. Require open reporting of data and the use of forums where employees can share ideas on how to reduce harassment. Tie compensation of executives, deans and chairs to outcomes.

RELATED: #MeToo Movement Hastens Change in Medical Field, Litigator Says

2. Policy improvement: Promote a policy that conveys a firm commitment to safety, respect, inclusion and equality. The policy should contain guidelines for standards of behavior, employee reporting of sexual harassment and institutional responses. Targets of harassment should also have access to counseling and support. 

RELATED: Women in Medicine Shout #MeToo About Sexual Harassment

3. Follow through: Pair policy with consistent action. Ensure that leadership has clearly communicated a zero-tolerance position; that employees trust the current procedures; and that reporting mechanisms are easy to understand. Undertake independent external investigations when there is any question about the objectivity of the internal inquiry. Consistently apply organizational responses, with reports that result in rapid, thorough and fair investigations.

RELATED: Implicit Bias, Authenticity Among Topics of Diversity Panel Discussion

4. Calculate cost: Strive to calculate actuarial costs of sexual harassment — in terms of accumulated absences, lost productivity, compromised hiring and retention, legal costs and reputational harm. Leaders’ compensation should be tied to decreasing these costs.

COMMENTARY: We Must Balance Gender Inequity in Medicine

5. Leadership: Increase representation of women in leadership roles and assure accompanying equity in salary and power. Mentorship and sponsorship programs can help.

Adapted from “Sexual Harassment Is Rampant in Health Care. Here’s How to Stop It.”

Copyright 2018 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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