It’s pretty clear that the way most companies handle sexual harassment issues isn’t working. Victims feel they can’t report incidents for fear of retaliation, HR feels obligated to protect the company, bystanders get cynical as issues persist, and business executives state they have zero tolerance for harassment but make big exceptions for “high value” talent. Legal teams use settlements and NDAs to sweep the biggest issues under the rug. The story plays over and over again.
If your organization is in this rut, it’s time for a culture shift.
We’re calling for HR, legal and business executives to “be strategic” in 2018 to solve sexual harassment. In doing so, you can drive greater value for your company and create a healthy, self-sustaining environment, enabling greater productivity and engagement.
1. Set expectations
We’ve recently seen several large companies send memos from their executives reiterating their expectations for a respectful workplace, where misconduct and other harmful behaviors are not permitted. Don’t underestimate the power of setting your expectations - and holding yourself accountable, because employees are watching.
2. Build a healthy workplace culture
Building a healthy workplace culture should be a key goal of every organization because it returns huge value. Embracing respect, good communication and diversity and inclusion are a great start, managing unconscious bias and effectively resolving conflict brings it to a whole other level. We acknowledge that there will still be issues. Invoke a language - like our color coded Workplace Color Spectrum - to help people call out and deter bad behavior.
3. Create #CultureKeepers
Mobilize your employees to become #CultureKeepers of your healthy, respectful workplace. They provide positive reinforcement for good behaviors and keep a check and balance on bad behaviors in a way that HR, legal and business executives never could. You can encourage this by having an open dialogue and a true open door policy.
4. Change how you train on sexual harassment
If you’re treating sexual harassment prevention training like a check-the-box compliance activity, and doing the minimum required every other year, you’re missing the point. Employees should be learning from their training, given tools to do their jobs better, and practicing those skills throughout the year. Training content should be a resource that they can tap whenever they experience an issue.
5. Handle complaints and investigations in a fair and respectful way
It doesn’t "help" the company when HR makes it difficult for people to come forward, buries complaints, ignores retaliation, or enables bad behavior of "high value" employees. You want to know about incidents early so you can resolve them swiftly. And you don't have to take the human out of HR to be effective. You can listen, understand the situation from each person’s perspective, even say “I’m sorry you had this experience.” Efficient, unbiased investigations, with quick and fair resolutions elevate HR to be a key partner to employees and their corporation.
6. Use authenticity when sexual harassment accusations go public
While the steps above should help limit future incidents, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements mean past workplace sexual harassment incidents may ‘go public’ on social media. This is a real enterprise risk. If you need to make a statement, be authentic. No one believes you when you say “we take all allegations of sexual harassment very seriously.” Instead, say: “we’re concerned about the reported incident and we’ll carefully investigate to uncover facts that will help us solve the problem.”
I've created a one-page handout with these six strategies that you can print out and post or share with your colleagues and company managers.
If you'd like to discuss ways you can be more strategic with your workplace culture, email us firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 1.800.242-6099. Let us know if you're interested in a free sexual harassment prevention training course trial.