Nearly 1 in 4 Manitoba employers have seen issues with sexual harassment: survey

Nearly one in four employers in Manitoba have had issues with sexual harassment come up in the workplace, a new survey suggests.

55% of private sector employers have a formal policy on sexual harassment, Probe survey suggests

Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo March in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Sunday in November. In the wake of the movement, businesses need to look at their sexual harassment policies, a Winnipeg human resources expert says. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

Nearly one in four employers in Manitoba have had issues with sexual harassment come up in the workplace, a new survey suggests. 

In the wake of allegations of sexual assault by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, other celebrities, politicians and people in power, Probe Research looked at sexual harassment in its annual business leaders index survey for the first time. 

The results, released on Friday morning, showed 74 per cent of business people surveyed said, to their knowledge, "no issues have come up" over the past five years when it comes to sexual harassment on the job.

About 23 per cent said issues had come up and one respondent said there was a chronic problem at their workplace. 

It doesn't come as a surprise, said Barb Bowes, president of Winnipeg human resources firm Legacy Bowes, but the survey might not actually reflect what's going on in Manitoba businesses. 

"I think a lot of people were absolutely afraid to come forward. They will quit first," Bowes said. 

With the #MeToo movement and a growing public consciousness about what is and isn't appropriate behaviour at work, Bowes said she expects the numbers to change. Her business has seen a stark increase in businesses and employees reaching out.

The phrase #MeToo was started more than a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke, but after the recent allegations of sexual assault, millions of women have shared their experiences online using the hashtag. Time magazine named "The Silence Breakers" its 2017 Person of the Year earlier this month.

"Something is happening out there in terms of attention," Bowes said. 

The Manitoba survey interviewed 124 businesses in Winnipeg and 81 outside, and did not include federal, provincial or municipal departments, hospitals, schools or non-profit organizations.

The change in sexual harassment culture on the job is not only about people feeling more comfortable speaking out, Bowes said, it's important employers create clear and consistent guidelines for what is harassment and how it will be dealt with.

Fifty-five per cent of private sector employers in Manitoba have a formal policy on sexual harassment while one-third have an informal policy according to the survey. Eleven per cent didn't have any policy.

The survey found larger businesses and those located in Winnipeg were much more likely to have a formal policy. While smaller businesses and those outside the city were more likely to have an informal policy. 

"Where we are finding issues is with the family-owned businesses... that maybe have long term employees," Bowes said.

"In many cases they don't have any policy at all so they don't know really how to deal with it."

Employees need to know how to make a complaint, who to make it to, how it will be investigated and how their confidentiality will be maintained, Bowes said. There also needs to be major improvements to how complaints are handled when the allegations are against the employer or senior management. 

However, Bowes said she is optimistic that Manitoba businesses are starting to recognize how important it is to take sexual harassment seriously.

"I think the MeToo campaign is going to push the training aspect a lot further and that's important to get things done," she said. 

The survey also found about 73 per cent of business leaders are optimistic about Manitoba's economic future and one-in-four expect to be hiring more people in 2018. But about half of business leaders said they'd faced difficulty finding skilled employees this year. 

The annual Probe research survey was conducted through phone interviews and online surveys with 205 businesses in Manitoba between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2017. The results are within 6.9 percentage points of what they would be had the entire population of Manitoba business leaders been surveyed.