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The coordinators of sexual assault awareness week hosted a talk on Wednesday about sexual assault in the workplace.

May 2, 2019

#MeToo Affects More than Just Hollywood ‘In the Workplace,’ Event Shows

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In her Wednesday evening talk entitled “In the Workplace,” Lara Hamburger outlined the often-overlooked culture of sexual harassment that plagues places of employment, ranging from waitressing joints to well-off corporate headquarters.

The #MeToo movement gained popularity after it exposed Hollywood directors, musicians, comedians and more for sexual misconduct. 

The talk was part of Cornell’s fifth annual Sexual Assault Awareness Week, which aims to increase awareness of sexually related harassment on campus by hosting a series of community discussions.

The talk began with the legal definition of sexual harassment — unwelcome, verbal, visual, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that affects working conditions and creates a hostile work environment, Hamburger said.

From the more than 13,000 harassment complaints received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, only 30 percent filed a formal report, according to Hamburger. This shortage can be explained by the risks that formal harassment reports carry in the workplace — including being fired, demoted, reassigned or given poor performance evaluations.

“Workplace sexual harassment does not exist in a vacuum,” Hamburger said. “It exists as a context. [It’s] very related to other forms of harassment or the reality of people’s day to day lives.”

Much of the talk involved a discussion with those in attendance about how to create workplace environments that do not permit inappropriate sexual behavior. Hamburger and students in attendance agreed that people in the workplace keeping quiet about sexual harassment incidents is one of the key contributors to a hostile work environment.

One solution in service-based occupations such as waitressing — where sexual harassment rates are relatively high — is for managers and supervisors to not allow the harasser into their establishment. While it sounds like it would lead to a loss in revenue, there are hidden future impacts such as decreased turnover and training costs, as well as happier employees, according to Clady Corona ‘19, one of the coordinators of the event.

The talk also provided steps to take when experiencing this type of mistreatment. This involves writing down what happened and starting a “paper trail,” or making sure that any reports of harassment to a supervisor occur in writing.

Finally, Hamburger dubbed a “culture of respect” — or a workplace in which all people are treated with dignity — the most effective strategy to prevent the culture in the first place. She also gave sexual harassment reporting options, such as the NY State Division of Human Rights, which takes complaints within one year of harassment.

Sexual Assault Awareness Week planning committee members spoke to this event’s specific importance within this week.

“So much of Cornell is pre-professional,” said Marissa Block ’19, co-lead of the planning committee. “If we want to create a world where sexual harassment in the workplace is not tolerated, we need to be having these conversations past the typical sexual harassment training videos.”

“We need to be actively involved in discussions,” she continued.

“It was important to have this event mainly because [sexual violence in the workforce] is not really talked about other than in Hollywood,” said Renee Odom ’20, another planning board committee member. “We [Cornellians] are all going into the workforce, that’s why we’re at Cornell getting a higher education right now.”

Hamburger works as a Campus Educator for the Advocacy Center in Tompkins County. The Advocacy Center is an organization that helps people impacted by partner violence and all types of sexual assault. They can be reached through a 24/7 hotline at (607) 277-5000, or on their website.