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Leading in the #METOO Era

In April 2018, Glamour magazine published an article, “Post-Weinstein, These Are the Powerful Men Facing Sexual Harassment Allegations.” The article referenced “legions of women” coming forward to share their #METOO stories of sexual harassment. With the recent news of allegations, convictions and the continued spotlight or sexual harassment, many companies are closely examining their work cultures, reiterating and reinforcing policy and requiring organization-wide training.

It is commendable that companies are taking a deeper look at their organizational culture. In some organizations, however, fear of prosecution seems to be the motivating force for updating policies and workforce training, rather than maintaining a healthy work environment and protecting the companies greatest asset — the people who work there.  The costs of sexual harassment are high to everyone involved.  From mental, physical, and economic harm to decreased productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm, there is a drain on performance.

According to the June 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, nearly 75 percent of individuals who experience harassment never even talk to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct.  They, instead, avoid the harasser, deny or downplay the gravity of the situation, or attempt to ignore, forget, or endure the behavior. Their least likely response to harassment is to report the harassment internally or file a formal legal complaint.  So, how do organizations arrive at the authentic culture change they wish to see?  What can organizational leaders do to remove the culture of fear of disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation?

Organizational leaders can:

Lead with Integrity — Establishing a culture of zero tolerance for harassment and strong prevention efforts must exist at the highest levels within your organization. At every level, systems must be in place to hold team members accountable for cultivating and maintaining a respectful, inclusive workplace environment.  Manager and supervisor accountability should include the use of metrics and performance reviews related to harassment prevention. Credible and committed leaders must also ensure efforts are appropriately resourced with time, people and finances to create a workplace free of harassment.

Be the Example — As a leader, be the first one to model desired behaviors. Be respectful.  Employees take their behavior cues from you.  Exhibit your company core values.  Follow policies your organization has set for handling harassment claims.

Know that One Size Doesn’t Fit All — Tailor your training to your specific workplace and workforce, as well as to different employee cohorts. Craft unique sessions for leaders, executives and team members, which include Bystander Intervention and “Civility Training.” Make the content and exercises relevant for each group. Rather than training to avoid legal liability, weave your harassment prevention training into your organizational culture from top to bottom.

Examine Your Situation — Be sure to assess your workplace for risk factors associated with harassment.

  • Have you permitted behavior or language that results in a hostile work environment or quid pro quo harassment?
  • Do your harassment prevention policies include guidelines for appropriate use of social media?
  • According to the May 2017 Employee Relations Benchmark Study from the Human Capital Institute, only 33 percent of organizations have required processes for conducting investigations. Have you communicated your anti-harassment policy, harassment complaint process and observer harassment reporting process to all employees?
  • Is there a non-retaliation policy in place?
  • When was your last climate survey assessing perceptions around harassment in your organization.
  • Have you tested your internal reporting process to ensure that it works as expected?

Have you taken the steps necessary to minimize harassment risks?

Don’t Play Favorites — When harassment is uncovered, discipline promptly and proportionately based on the infraction and without partiality. Let employees know that although investigations will be kept as confidential as possible, complete confidentiality or anonymity is not always possible. Reward those who are responsible for and do well in preventing harassment and reprimanded those who fail to perform those duties well.

 Investigate Objectively — Do not prejudge employee complaints. Employees need to know that their employer will conduct a prompt, comprehensive, open-minded investigation and take appropriate action. Failure to do so will likely result in employee apprehension about raising concerns and failure in filing complaints when warranted.

The bottom line is leaders must create a workplace culture every employee wants to be in, feels safe in, will be treated with respect and will have equal pay, positions and partnerships. Leaders are responsible to create work environments where equity and inclusion are valued and embedded, and implicit bias is eliminated from recruiting, hiring and retention practices. Doing this will be good for the people who work there and the bottom line.

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