Portrait of Steve Shih on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

By Dan Gephart, July 2, 2019

On Feb. 1, 2018, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched a workplace anti-harassment campaign. The campaign was based on the applicable federal laws, EEO guidance on anti-harassment, and the expertise of its creator – Steve Shih.

Shih is that rare person who can explain the fundamental principles and concepts of subjects like employment law and leadership, but is also creative enough to develop outside-the-box solutions. He has held critical roles over the past 25 years with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Department of Homeland Security. Shih has created agency- and government-wide policy and guidance for EEO, leadership, diversity and inclusion, training and development, employee engagement, and agency operations. He is currently Associate Administrator of Diversity and Equal Opportunity at NASA.

When Steve Shih talks, you listen. And we were listening when he discussed the agency’s anti-harassment campaign as being about “safety and effectiveness” of the workforce and the NASA mission. “We know if we take care of the workforce, they will take care of our mission,” Shih said.The campaign focuses on proactive prevention of harassment, and the prompt correction of harassment when it occurs. For prevention, the agency has gone to great lengths to get the message across – everything from meetings with agency leaders to 3-D simulations and gamification.

DG: What specific steps has NASA done to proactively prevent harassment?

SS: First, the NASA Administrator sent a video message and a written memorandum to every NASA employee, communicating:

  • Expectations for the appropriate culture and values in the NASA workplace.
  • Emphasis on accountability.
  • Reinforcement of the agency’s anti-harassment policy and requirements for all NASA personnel to exercise reasonable care to prevent and enable the prompt correction of workplace harassment.
  • Expectations for all personnel to support NASA’s Anti-Harassment Campaign.

I personally conducted briefings for all NASA senior leaders, including at the Administrator’s Senior Staff Meeting in February as well as briefings and trainings at NASA Headquarters and Field Centers across the country.

NASA has just developed and launched an innovative online training involving 3-D simulations, avatars, and gamification, focusing on harassment prevention and bystander intervention. The training is available to the entire NASA workforce, and is aligned specifically to NASA mission and to providing a value to NASA organizations and individuals on mission accomplishment.

NASA field centers and other organizations are also continuing additional efforts to proactively prevent harassment, including town halls, diversity and EEO programs, and partnerships with employee resources groups.

DG: We talked a lot about prevention, but can you briefly tell our readers how NASA effectively handles correction?

SS: NASA’s anti-harassment program is operated through a partnership of relevant NASA organizations and officials (including the agency’s Anti-Harassment Coordinators, the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer, the Office of General Counsel, and senior management officials) who work together to review the fact-finding results of harassment matters and determine appropriate action.

These organizations and officials have both the leadership and program responsibilities and authorities to coordinate appropriate corrective measures when harassment occurs, including deciding and implementing discipline for employee misconduct, and driving organizational improvements (e.g., through training and improved operational policies and procedures).

This approach has enabled NASA to prioritize correction and continual prevention of harassment in a consistent, coordinated, and effective way across the entire agency.

DG: How do you measure the success of the anti-harassment program?

SS: NASA’s recent annual processing times for reports of harassment has averaged only 51 days from receipt to fact-finding to full resolution of reports of harassment, compared to the formal EEO process, which on average easily takes more than two years to fully complete.

We have data demonstrating employees’ increased capability to report harassment through any of multiple avenues and to multiple individuals who can arrange for assistance, including through our Anti-Harassment Program. Our data also indicate employees have experienced increased psychological safety and assurance of protection from retaliation, and these conditions have improved the confidence of employees to report and seek assistance for harassment.

I’m pleased to say NASA has maintained a very low volume of EEO complaints raising claims of harassment. Our data shows NASA’s Anti-Harassment Program has been extremely effective for early resolution of harassment matters so they don’t later become EEO complaints. In fact, during FY 2018, NASA received only 30 EEO complaints of harassment – this is a tremendously small number for an agency with about 17,500 civil servants and additional contract employees – and of these 30 EEO complaints, not a single one them raised a claim of sexual harassment.

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