One by one, several high-profile pillars of Hollywood society have fallen to the ground. Radio and TV personalities, as well as some leading CEOs and politicians, have quickly followed suit. Not of their own doing, of course; they’ve been "outed" by the #metoo movement that has brought to light stories of their long-standing sexual-harassment exploits. In spite of the fact many have lost their jobs and sometimes their family, they continue to deny, plead ignorance of their behaviour and/or blame the victim. Still others run toward a treatment facility in hopes their pain will go away.
But why now? Why are these leaders crashing and burning? After all, sexual harassment has been a long-standing issue for women in the workplace. In fact, many women will tell you that it is simply a routine occupational hazard. In my view, the "now" is due not only to the fact that women are gaining the courage to speak up. It’s now also a fact that leaders are finally recognizing and supporting the concept of zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace.
While I appreciate the good news, unfortunately, there’s still plenty of bad news. For instance, the most recent October 2017 Canadian Abacus Data survey of 1,500 Canadians, showed that 53 percent of women have felt unwanted sexual pressure. Even more disturbing was the fact survey participants reported that if sexual harassment did indeed occur in the workplace, there were no sanctions or consequences applied against the perpetrator. I’m sorry to hear that fact, because I know many of my clients have indeed acted immediately, commissioning investigations and making those difficult, but necessary, decisions.
As well, all of these recent high-profile terminations and sexual-harassment incidents led to a recent open letter to all human resource professionals pleading with them to stop "enabling" sexual harassment in their workplace. The letter writer suggested HR professionals were focused on protecting the corporation because they were fearful of turnover, low productivity, and poor morale. In my view, however, sexual harassment is often the cause of turnover, low productivity, and low morale. In fact, sexual harassment most often leads to a hostile work environment.
Yet, HR professionals and management do indeed play a key role in dealing with sexual harassment, and there are several steps that need to be taken to prevent this from happening in the workplace. I also know that many smaller organizations do not have an HR professional, but that is no excuse for ignoring the potential fallout of sexual harassment. Therefore, the following tips are directed more to these smaller entities.
● Develop a policy: if you haven’t done so already, develop a policy on sexual harassment. This doesn’t need to be super elaborate, but it needs to define what constitutes sexual harassment and states that your organization has zero tolerance for this behaviour.
● Outline a complaint process: part of the policy should outline the complaint process, to whom the complaint should be submitted, what needs to be documented and how the complaint will be investigated and addressed. As well, the complainant needs to be assured of confidentiality.
● Ensure a progressive discipline policy: progressive discipline allows for a step-by-step process that ensures an employee is treated fairly. Typically, starting with a coaching process, the steps continue with increasingly stronger sanctions all with the goal of improving behaviour. It also allows a manager to apply the final step of termination should the infraction be very serious.
● Train employees: develop a training program on all types of harassment, and ensure that all new employees receive the training as part of their orientation. Training for employees should be on an annual basis, with each participant signing an attendance sheet to acknowledge they understand the policy and agree to abide by the policy.
● Train managers: managers need to have the same training, but also need emphasis on how to document their progressive discipline actions. They also need to know how the organization wishes to undertake an investigation, should it be necessary. Sometimes the HR manager can conduct the investigation, while other times an external investigator is better suited to the situation. If written documentation is incomplete, there may be difficulty should there be a desire to terminate an employee. Documentation is the most neglected aspect of any disciplinary process.
● Nip it in the bud: there doesn’t need to be a complaint to take action against sexual harassment. As a manager, you need to be a role model, so ensure that your own behaviour is above reproach. Then, should you overhear an inappropriate comment or see behaviour that could lead to a complaint, take the person aside and have a discussion. Sometimes, I find people don’t understand how others will interpret their comment and don’t realize they are engaging in sexual harassment and/or harassment in general. Still others, of course, are well aware of their actions.
● Act promptly: there is nothing worse than a manager who fails to act when a complaint is raised. Act promptly. Suspend the perpetrator with pay until an investigation is complete. Provide private counselling for the complainant, and ensure you communicate all the steps to be taken in the investigation. Review your policies and practices. Determine if something is missing or if policies were properly followed. Determine if the complainant needs time off work, and make arrangements for their support.
● Assertive communication: incorporate training courses in your programming that help people to be assertive in their communication, deal with interpersonal conflict and be effective team members. While fear of retribution is the most common reason for not reporting sexual harassment or harassment of any kind, teaching employees to be assertive communicators is an important step to a harmonious workplace.
Managers, business owners and human-resource professionals all have an obligation to protect workers from sexual harassment. As well, employees need to take personal responsibility to model their own behaviour so that interpersonal relations are strong and appropriate. Then, no matter what, if you see inappropriate behaviour or hear comments that can lead to a complaint, you need to speak up and be heard.
Source: Canada’s sexual violence problem gets half-baked treatment in research: expert; Maham Abedi, Global News, 2017