Many women in the auto industry who experience sexual harassment say they have two choices on how to handle it: Ignore it or leave their jobs.
Employee handbooks often recommend human resources as the place to report issues with co-workers or managers. But many women surveyed by Automotive News said they fear being labeled as troublemakers and don't trust the HR department to protect them.
About 18 percent of the Automotive News Project XX Survey respondents said they reported unwanted advances from colleagues to their HR department, while nearly a quarter said they didn't say anything because they believed reporting the issue wouldn't have made a difference.
Thirty percent of those who reported a situation said they were not at all satisfied with the result, while just about 6 percent said they were extremely satisfied.
HR departments often end up failing victims because they adopt strict procedures that treat issues in legal terms, according to Anna-Maria Marshall, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has studied workplace harassment. In other cases, they take no action at all.
"I am not at all surprised at the widespread reluctance to report to HR and the disappointment when people do," Marshall said. HR often processes complaints as if it is putting them through a legal system, she said, insisting people have proof, such as witnesses or emails, to document the harassment. If they don't have evidence, HR says it can't do anything.
"And nothing gets better," she said. "HR departments need to think creatively about addressing sexual harassment, ways that are less adversarial and more proactive."