A year after #MeToo, execs say they're shaping up

  • Nearly a third of executives surveyed said they have changed their behaviors to some degree to avoid conduct that could be perceived as sexual harassment, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
  • Uncertainty over what constitutes sexual harassment has made some men uncomfortable around female co-workers and wary about navigating changing workplace dynamics.
Businessman embracing his pretty secretary at work, she looking at his hand
mediaphotos | E+ | Getty Images
Businessman embracing his pretty secretary at work, she looking at his hand

Sexual harassment in the workplace isn't just unpleasant for about half the workforce.

It costs a company money in terms of lower morale and decreased engagement, which in turn can ramp down productivity, according to a survey from the Society of Human Resource Management.

Uncertainty over what constitutes sexual harassment has made some men uncomfortable around female co-workers and wary about navigating changing workplace dynamics.

For instance, some executives are not inviting female colleagues on trips, to evening networking events or into their inner circles, said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the human resources group.

According to Taylor, this a troubling trend because it reduces opportunity for women even while male executives are looking to avoid any situation that could be misperceived.

Most common: Nonconsensual touching and inappropriate comments and solicitations.

"Those, of course, tie very closely to the employee's gender and are thus good candidates for legal action under Title VII or state or local statutes," said Joyce Smithey, the managing partner of Smithey Law Group, which specializes in labor and employment law.

Any companies struggling with how to help an old-school executive become aware have plenty of sexual harassment training and executive coaching options.

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"Training is a good idea for a lot of reasons," Smithey said. "Not only can it help prevent harassment, but it can act as an affirmative defense for companies in sexual harassment lawsuits."

It's not mandatory, but it's a good idea for a company to have a clear, written policy that educates management and employees alike, Smithey says.

Legal repercussions include sex discrimination claims and sexual harassment complaints, which are both on the rise. This year, 41 claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission included complaints of sexual harassment. In 2017, sexual harassment accounted for just 33 filings.