Facebook’s sexual harassment policy mirrors recommendations for college campuses

“We need systemic, lasting changes that deter bad behavior and protect everyone.”
“We need systemic, lasting changes that deter bad behavior and protect everyone.”
Image: Reuters/Ruben Sprich
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In a rare move for the corporate world, Facebook published its internal anti-sexual harassment policies on Friday, Dec. 8. The company says it wants to be transparent, and to share its best practices in order to help others improve their own. In some ways, the relatively robust approach mirrors what experts have been recommending for college campuses, which have been grappling with these issues long before Silicon Valley.

Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s COO, and Lori Goler, Facebook VP “of people” write in a post that many people have asked Facebook to share its policies with the public. “While we don’t believe any company’s enforcement or policies are perfect,” they write, “we think that sharing best practices can help us all improve, especially smaller companies that may not have the resources to develop their own policies”

In addition to outlining its policies in detail (one example on its list of possible harassments is “non-verbal behavior such as staring, leering, or gestures”), Facebook says it ensures mandatory anti-harassment training for managers. All claims are supposed to be treated with “seriousness, urgency, and respect.” The company has its own “Investigations Team,” and it describes the specific steps in the process of looking into a harassment claim. There’s also a strict anti-retaliation policy, and Sandberg and Goler stipulate that if the company doesn’t feel like it can fire someone, it is committed to moving people into different roles to make employees feel safe.

Sandberg and Goler underline that the policies “go above and beyond what is required by law,” prohibiting behaviors that “might not meet the legal standard of harassment.”

The policies echo what Diane Rosenfeld, the director of the gender violence program at Harvard Law School and advisor to the Obama White House on campus sexual assault, has outlined as necessary procedures for colleges to deal with the hotly-debated problem. Her approach includes education as a crucial element of assault prevention, ensuring that schools support survivors of assault in continuing their studies, and the necessity of a prompt investigation and resolution.

Of course, as one expert told the Associated Press, anti-harassment policies are only as good as the managers who are responsible for implementing them.

The release of Facebook’s policies comes during a national and global reckoning related to sexual misconduct in the workplace, with many powerful men losing their jobs because of allegations of inappropriate or aggressive actions. This is something Sandberg acknowledges on her own Facebook page: “Workplace culture has permitted unacceptable behavior – and this a watershed moment where we must make sure that this changes permanently.”

Facebook has in the past been sued for harassment and sex discrimination.

Silicon Valley and the tech sector, dominated by men, experienced its own #MeToo moment before the Harvey Weinstein revelations were made public—but months after multiple women came out detailing their stories of harassment, not much in the industry has changed, insiders say.

Leah Fessler contributed reporting to this story.