Addressing Sexual Harassment At Work Starts With HR

By Tracey Lien and David Pierson
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Several sexual harassment experts and victims say that at the heart of the problem is the fact human resources departments often serve companies first, not individual employees.


A woman is sexually harassed or assaulted at work. She alerts her company’s human resources department, which does nothing. Only after she makes her allegations public does her employer pay attention.

It’s a narrative familiar now only because women like former Uber engineer Susan Fowler and others have risked their careers to tell their stories about how the people hired to protect them in their workplace ultimately failed.

Since Fowler she revealed her experience, in a blog post, which set in motion events that led to the eventual resignation of Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, and the recent sexual harassment scandals roiling companies including Amazon Studios, Fox News, Vox Media and Weinstein Co., questions abound as to what human resources departments were doing when employees needed them most.

At the heart of the problem, experts and victims say, is the fact such departments often serve companies first, not individual employees. Their job is to limit any reputational and legal damage to the company, creating, in some circumstances, an incentive to dismiss allegations or keep them secret.

“Is human resources really the right place to go?” Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who sued the company’s late chief executive, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment, told Fortune. “Because what I always equate it to is, who’s giving them the paycheck?

“In the end, if the culture’s being set from the top and it’s trickling down to the lower levels, human resources may not be looking out for you,” she said.

Even if human resources officials wanted to take aggressive measures against problematic employees, there’s no guarantee they could. Many don’t have a direct line to the CEO, let alone the board of directors, said Patrick Wright, director of the Center for Executive Succession at the University of South Carolina.

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