Decision Tree – One Way to Help a Friend Decide to Report or Not

Dear Readers, especially HR experts,

Deciding to report sexual harassment is often a difficult choice to make. There are many risks and often few benefits. However, it is within our rights to ask for it to stop and to ask others to help us stop it.

We want to empower women and men to stand up to gender-based harassment, with one caveat…we want them to stand when the odds of not falling and not failing are in their favor.

I would love your feedback on the 5-step decision tree that I came up with to answer the following question for myself. These are the five questions I would want my friends to help me with if I was sexually harassed in the workplace:

  • How do we help friends that have been [sexually] harassed and cannot decide if they want to report? 

What’s right about the decision tree? What steps and considerations are missing? What, if anything, should get changed or removed?

Your feedback is valuable not just to me, but to all those suffering from sexual harassment that are quietly absorbing as much information as they can to help them make the right choices for themselves.

Thanks in advance for your insights and discussion.

Plum Blossom

Step 1. Were you harassed?

The first step in the decision tree is to spend time answering the most fundamental question: Were you harassed? If you are clear one way or the other (yes/no), move on to the next step. However, if you are not 100% sure, find out.

Were You Harassed?

Were You Harassed?

Step 2. Were there witnesses?

The next step in the decision tree is to find out if you would be reporting alone or if office colleagues will stand at your side. This is a difficult step to work through, as asking colleagues “if they saw anything” and then asking them “if they would support you” are difficult questions to ask. This step is not a Go/NoGo step, it’s just a valuable investment of time to find out who your allies are (or not) in the reporting process. Sometimes its easier to stand up when you have people standing up with you.

Please remember though, that sometimes, your allies are still your allies, even if they think they can’t risk reporting. Sometimes their family, mortgage, and other personal priorities must come first. Find other ways to engage them as your allies.

Were There Witnesses?

Were There Witnesses?

Step 3. Have You Documented a Pattern?

Patterns of behavior are not a requirement for reporting sexual harassment. But it helps to establish your credibility with the company HR representative if there is a documented pattern. The important piece of advice here is to document what’s happening, whenever it happens.

Decision Tree Step 3

Have You Documented a Pattern?

Step 4. Are You Financially Secure?

Consider all the possible end-results of reporting. If there is a possibility that you could lose your job, then consider making sure that you are financially secure before you start down that path.  Do you have enough money to retain a lawyer if you need one? This fee is usually $5000. Do you have enough liquid assets to survive for 6 months if you lose your job and need time to find the next one? If the answer to either of these questions is no, talk to your financial planner (if you don’t have one, find one!) to make a plan to get ready.

Are You Financially Secure?

Are You Financially Secure?

Step 5. Are You Emotionally Ready to Report?

Many people underestimate the huge emotional burden that standing up to sexual harassment can bring. If you are sure that you are ready to report, asking yourself this last question is a helpful last step. Do you have control of your emotions? Do you have support from family and friends to help you see this through? Do you have ways to work through your emotions and still stay focused on your day to day responsibilities?

Are You Emotionally Ready to Report?

Are You Emotionally Ready to Report?

Summing Up

Like I said, this is the decision tree process that I would want my friends to help me with, if I came up against gender harassment again. It may not be perfect, but it’s a plan of action I could follow to help me be my best self. I welcome any and all feedback and discussion to improve this decision tree for me and for anyone else needing such a plan.


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