Fedweek

A consultant’s study has found that 20 percent of FEMA employees say they have experienced a civil rights violation on the basis of sex, and nearly as many have similarly experienced a violation on the basis of race or ethnicity.

In a survey to which nearly half of agency employees responded, 12 percent of women and 4 percent of men reported hostile-work-environment sexual harassment and/or quid-pro-quo harassment while 29 and 12 percent, respectively, reported gender-based harassment and/or gender discrimination such as offensive comments.

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Harassment or discrimination based on race or ethnicity was reported by between 16 and 29 percent of minority groups and by 16 percent of whites.

However, only between a third and a half of employees experiencing the various types of violations reported them to management, some told other people and about a fifth told no one.

“While a majority of FEMA employees said leaders would respond appropriately to harassing behaviors, 24% of women perceived leadership behaviors as neutral or actively harmful. And 28% of Black respondents had similar opinions about how their supervisors would handle racial/ethnic harassment,” said the RAND Corporation which conducted the study.

“Even though the data from this survey is more than a year and a half behind us, these findings are alarming and simply not acceptable,” said FEMA, which had commissioned the study after an internal investigation into allegations of misconduct.

It announce a “culture improvement action plan” focusing on prevention efforts, examining reasons some offices had especially high rates of violations, training for leadership at all levels on handling and addressing harassment complaints, reducing barriers to reporting, transparency and monitoring.

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