#MeToo in the Workplace

​Heather Kamper from the VUMC SHARE Center talks about workplace misconduct and the reactions people have about it.

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Rosemary Cope:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I am Rosemary Cope with WorkLife Connections.  Our guest today is Heather Kamper.  A graduate of the University of Pittsburg, Heather is the new coordinator for the SHARE Center and is also a clinical counselor with our Employee Assistance Program.  April is sexual assault awareness month.  So, we thought we would look at concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace.  According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission an estimated 75% of individuals who get harassed at work do not file a complaint.  The reasons are varied and complicated.  According to research firm Gartner about 60% of all misconduct observed in the workplace is never reported.  In the age of Me Too, it is helpful to look at the bigger picture.  Heather, would you give a brief definition of workplace misconduct so that we all know what the issue is?

Heather Kamper:  Sure, Rosemary.  First, I want to say thanks so much for having me here and more importantly for bringing light to the shadow by dedicating your Wellcast to sexual harassment today.  According to the Human Resources Department here at VUMC, sexual harassment is defined very specifically as unwelcomed conduct of a sexual nature, unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and any other verbal or nonverbal conduct that is of a sexual nature.  You can think of it in broader categories such as physical sexual harassment, verbal sexual harassment, and nonverbal sexual harassment.  VUMC also has a clearly stated zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment.  I feel particularly empowered as a VUMC staff by this policy summary statement from human resources that says, our sexual harassment policy is to have a culture at VUMC where employees clearly define, prevent, and stop sexual harassment.  We will not tolerate sexual harassment in our workplace.  Our culture is based on mutual respect.  That is a powerful statement from our leaders and employer, Rosemary.  We are living and working in exciting times.  

Rosemary Cope:  I agree, Heather.  I can think of all kinds of reasons people might not want to talk about this topic.  Would you enlighten us on why people stay silent?

Heather Kamper:  Many people fear retaliation by the abuser or other witnesses in the workplace.  Of course, the fear of not being believed is an experience shared by many.  Many survivors talk about the role that shame and even self-blame play in staying silent.  Lack of access to supports such as friends or family that could encourage the survivor to speak out often worsens the isolation present in sexual harassment.  Another factor that can sometimes create additional barriers to disclosure is the power hierarchy that exists in society and within our own VUMC which is closely linked to fear of retaliation and not being believed.  

Rosemary Cope:  I also know there are people who do tell about their experiences.  How is that beneficial to the person who does that?  

Heather Kamper:  Powerful things can happen when we start to tell the story, Rosemary.  Many survivors have reported that they began the healing process when they first spoke up whether to a friend or supervisor or a confidential support like a therapist.  People who live through sexual harassment also indicate that it was at the moment they spoke out that they began to take their power back, if you will, from the person intimidating or causing them harm.  They began to own their rightful place in the workplace and the world again.  Survivors may report that they speak out so that they can benefit from resources and access support systems, which we know exists here at VUMC and at VU.  Some survivors report that they disclose to get feedback and ideas and the opportunity to know more about options for next steps.  I have always been particularly moved when a client tells me they reported, and they are speaking out to help protect others from experiencing the same form of harassment and abuse that they have experienced.  Finally, one significant reason why people speak out is to reduce the emotional, psychological, and often physical toll that holding the experience has had.

Rosemary Cope:  So, if someone wants to take back that power that you talked about, Heather, and they would like to speak confidentially about this, how do they reach out to you?

Heather Kamper:  For any staff person at VUMC, our newest program in Health and Wellness is available for those who have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment and needs support.  It is called the SHARE Center and we have only recently celebrated our first birthday.  SHARE stands for sexual harassment, awareness, response, and education.  SHARE has been regularly participating in ongoing efforts at VUMC to ensure equity, safety, and respect across the enterprise through individual counseling and departmental consultations and even educational presentations.  We serve a unique role in the VUMC system and as a result we are able to ensure that information about sexual harassment shared with me or any other staff person in a counseling session within SHARE will be held as confidential.  We are here to be patient, knowledgeable, empowering and understanding listeners.  If you would like to contact the SHARE Center, VUMC staff, faculty or Allied Health professionals can give us a call at the Work/Life Connections-EAP phone line at 615-936-1327 and let our staff know that you would like to make an appointment with a SHARE provider.  The SHARE Center is located in the basement of the Medical Arts Building in Suite 010.  We are open from Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you need more information, you can look at the SHARE Center's website at VUMC.org/health-wellness/SHARE-Center.  Thanks, Rosemary.  

Rosemary Cope:  Thank you, Heather, for enlightening us about this important center and giving out great information to all of our employees here at Vanderbilt.  

Thank you all for listening.  If you have a story suggestion, please use the Contact Us page on our website at www.vumc.org/health-wellness.