Recent surveys find that approximately 80% of women and more than 40% of men in America have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetimes. Alarming as these statistics are, many people still have a hard time believing harassment is a pervasive, often career-altering epidemic.
Aware of the disconnect, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings takes a personal approach when educating his employees about sexual harassment. “Statistics don’t move people, stories move people,” Hastings said at Wall Street Journal’s Women in the Workplace gala on Oct. 23, in conversation on stage with WSJ editor Nikki Waller.
He then shared the story he tells Netflix employees to demonstrate the gravity of sexual harassment. It’s about a Netflix colleague who put up with “tremendous sexual harassment for two years,” perpetrated by one of her male superiors:
“Finally one of her colleagues reported it, and once we found out we promptly investigated it and fired him,” Hastings said. ”Only later, as I got to know the victim, she explained to me that [shs didn’t report the harassment because] she loved her job, and she wasn’t sure what would happen if she brought it up. She wasn’t sure if we would deal with it. She wasn’t sure if we would fire him. And you know, this is a highly competent, professional person.”
Hastings says he tells this story “again and again” at Netflix so that employees understand “it’s really high stakes to report an incident of harassment, and that’s why a lot of people don’t report it.”
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, more than 85% of people who experience sexual harassment at work never file a formal legal charge, and approximately 70% of employees never complain internally.
As the Boston Globe recently noted in a story about harassment-reporting rates:
Workplace victims of sexual harassment often don’t report the behavior or file a formal complaint because they fear one or more of the following outcomes: they won’t be believed; nothing will be done; they will be blamed; and they will face retaliation socially, professionally, or both, the EEOC says.
Important as personal stories like Hastings’ are, it’s also worth interrogating why many men (and some women) need for sexual harassment to be made personal to fully believe in its prevalence. Feminist allies may be better off heeding civil rights activist Shaun King’s advice, which he recently shared with Quartz: “I want every woman around me to understand that I will always stand with them,” he says. “I believe them by default.”