This article is part of a series of research-based pieces that explore harassment by industry, including healthcare, hospitality, tech, and the industrial and manufacturing sector. The series also delves into harassment-related issues brought about by transitions to in-person, remote and hybrid office work models.
Did you know that constant harassment can lead to depression, anxiety and other health problems? Such a situation not only makes it difficult for employees to perform at their best—it gives them a reason to leave their jobs. In the era of the Great Resignation, this is just one of the reasons that harassment is not only a problem for individuals, but it is also a concern for the very survival of the organization.
Harassment in the workplace can happen anywhere, but in the manufacturing and industrial sectors, it can pose a major risk by exacerbating an already critical issue: a shortage of talent. Let’s look at what the statistics tell us about harassment in this industry, why it’s critical to address it, now more than ever, and explore some concrete steps for making large-scale change.
A look at what the harassment statistics are telling us
First, here are some sobering facts about harassment in the industrial and manufacturing sector. These are the results of how women in a manufacturing setting responded to a recent survey, as reported in Industry Week.
- said they have been subjected to unwanted touching, kissing, or other physical advances83%
- said they had received unwanted propositions for dates or sex72%
- of women said that they have been subjected to unwanted verbal advances62%
There are consequences to statistics like this. The report found that “Women are more likely to leave their jobs if they work in manufacturing compared to men in the same field. Women are also more likely to leave manufacturing compared to other industries.” And while much of the research and conversations around harassment focuses on women, a toxic culture where harassment runs rampant can affect everyone in a negative way.
Harassment compounds the risk of a talent shortage
So, why is it more important than ever to address harassment? That’s because workforce shortages pose particularly serious risks to industrial and manufacturing businesses. According to a report from Deloitte, “The manufacturing industry netted a loss of 578,000 jobs during the pandemic-challenged year 2020—a figure that represents nearly six years of job gains.” And yet during any point in 2021, “Nearly 500,000 jobs have remained open in manufacturing.” Moreover, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey continues to find that attracting and retaining a quality workforce is one of the top business challenges among respondents.
The report goes on to say that “Record numbers of unfilled jobs are likely to limit higher productivity and growth in 2022” with an “estimated shortfall of 2.1 million skilled jobs by 2030.” Culture is considered a key factor in attracting and retaining employees. And not surprisingly in a harassment-prone culture, there’s a much higher chance that employees will be seeking employment elsewhere.
How to facilitate large-scale change
Experts caution that “manufacturers cannot just focus on recruiting diverse talent but must continue to focus attentively on building an inclusive culture, fostering growth opportunities and pathways to careers, and living these values at every level of the organization.” They must “foster an innovative and inclusive culture that encourages gender diverse teams at all levels and spotlights role models for women and underrepresented minorities.”
Among the recommendations from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is to take firm steps to prohibit harassment in the workplace. This includes creating clearly defined harassment policies, instituting complaint procedures, implementing interactive bystander awareness training.
To put you on your way to making in-roads into addressing these challenges, here are four basic steps to prevent harassment:
1. Create awareness about the challenges and opportunities
Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, talk about the importance of creating a work environment where everyone feels safe, valued and appreciated. Be clear about the challenges facing industrial and manufacturing businesses. Harassment can be insidious, and it does most of its damage when it is ignored. Enlist everyone to be part of shaping a new culture that treats all of its employees with the respect they deserve.
2. Develop and implement a plan and adjust your policies and processes
Consider your starting point as an organization. What progress have you made with harassment prevention—what worked or didn’t work? Shape your plan around what you know will be most effective. Ensure that your plan addresses policies and processes around harassment prevention. Those policies should be consistently applied, encouraging people to come forward should they experience or witness harassment. Processes should promptly address complaints with a clear mandate that retaliation against those who come forward will not be tolerated.
3. Offer training that engages people in bystander intervention
When people are brought in to help solve a problem, they will be more likely to support the effort. That requires training that doesn’t fuel accusations and build defenses between victims and harassers. But rather, it should help employees to understand what role they can play in creating a safe environment. Training should focus on the issues specific to the industrial and manufacturing setting and offer clear guidance that helps employees navigate through tricky situations.
4. Put a special focus on managers
Particularly in an industrial and manufacturing setting, managers are a key asset when it comes to culture change. They hold the power to convey and reinforce messages on an ongoing basis. Engage them right from the beginning, starting from creating awareness, to developing a plan, to adjusting policies and processes, to implementing training, modifying practices—and reinforcing the points learned through education and training.
Culture change is a journey that takes time, patience and perseverance. But it can offer great rewards. For the industrial and manufacturing industry, the change toward a harassment-free culture can mean the opportunity to attract and retain a vibrant and productive workforce that will fortify the organization with new strength and resilience, preparing it to face the challenges ahead.