Notes on Sexual Harassment

In the wake of widespread revelations about pervasive sexual misconduct in the workplace, cultural leaders and trustees must step up to eliminate sexual harassment and advance equality in their organizations. This means taking a strong position, setting new terms of engagement, and actively participating in this overdue cultural reckoning. The New Museum does not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace, and has a clear anti-harassment policy in its staff handbook.

On March 12 and 13, 2018, the New Museum organized four workshops on sexual harassment for cultural workers. Below, we share some of the takeaways as a springboard for conversation and a basis for further work.

Lisa Phillips, Toby Devan Lewis Director

Learn More About Our Recent Workshops

  • 1 in 4 women are harassed
  • 84 percent of those reporting harassment are women
  • Only 25 percent of those harassed report the incident
  • 75 percent of those who report say they faced retaliation

  • Harassment can be perpetrated by anyone, regardless of sexual or gender orientation.
  • Pattern, severity, and frequency are factors in determining harassment.
  • Harassment is not about your intentions, but how the other person receives or perceives what you say or do.
  • Sexual harassment is almost always about power, not sex.
  • It is often those most vulnerable—young, single, undocumented, part-time, contract workers—who are victimized.

  • Define harassment by legal standards and your institution’s standards in your staff handbook. List behaviors that are not acceptable, such as unwelcome physical contact, bias jokes, comments on personal appearance, lewd or sexual remarks, sexual conversations or soliciting sexual information, and sharing sexual imagery.
  • Make signing an anti-harassment HR policy a condition of employment. Ensure that leadership reinforces the policy.
  • For nonprofits, consider a board policy to protect staff from donor harassment.
  • Train staff about what to do when they experience or witness harassment.
  • Include men in any workshop or training. They are a crucial audience.
  • Strive for gender parity. Talk with colleagues about how to mentor and sponsor women.
  • Run unconscious bias workshops for staff and board members.
  • Look at salaries along gender lines and even things up.

  • Document and report harassment to HR or management. Save all text messages, emails, and photos. Write it up as it happens and save a copy of your records at home.
  • If a manager sees something inappropriate, they must say something to HR or leadership.
  • Speak openly, both among colleagues and to HR. There is strength in numbers.
  • If a staff member has taken appropriate action and does not receive support from management, they should seek legal recourse or contact the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.


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