Sexual harassment is the reddest of red flags. It’s an indicator of a serious workplace disease – a culture lacking in respect. Preventing or stopping sexual harassment in the workplace not only requires tackling sexual harassment head on, but also addressing its underlying cause – a disrespectful workplace.
Why Is Sexual Harassment Still a Problem?
We all know that, left unaddressed, disrespect of any sort—particularly sexual harassment—damages morale, employee engagement, and individual and team performance. On top of that, it can expose organizations to significant liability. So, why does sexual harassment continue to plague our workplaces?
There are many factors involved, beginning with reticence to call attention to situations or behaviors that make us feel uncomfortable.
It's easier to ignore, excuse, or make light of inappropriate behavior that we don’t know how to respond to effectively or discuss constructively. That sort of don’t-make-waves philosophy aims to keep things running smoothly. For managers who are under pressure to ensure that work gets done, glossing over suspected sexual harassment may be seen as the most expedient way to keep productivity on track.
However, ignoring or making light of sexual harassment opens the door to escalation and doesn’t hold the harasser accountable for his/her behavior. It leaves the victim vulnerable—and perhaps others, too. Managers who fail to address sexual harassment may jeopardize their employees, their teams, and help create a hostile work environment in the process. They may even put their employers and themselves at risk for legal action. Everyone stands to lose.
Making a Positive Difference
The good news is that we know how to deal effectively with sexual harassment in the workplace, and that involves three key ideas:
- Establishing a culture of respect that sets high standards of behavior
- Holding everyone accountable by turning bystanders into upstanders
- Clarifying definitions and expectations
1. Organizational cultures vary widely, but there are common characteristics of a culture of respect that help prevent sexual harassment from taking root
. Among those traits:
Values confirm the commitment to respect. When companies are serious about respect, they make it an organizational value. Formalizing high behavioral standards spotlights desired conduct and encourages recognition and prevention of sexual harassment.
Leaders set the tone. By ensuring their behavior reflects respect for all, and by talking about and demonstrating the importance of respect, leaders/managers at all levels create workplaces where sexual harassment and other negative behaviors are not tolerated.
Open communication and transparency build trust. Encouraging honest communication, providing transparency about policies and practices, and insisting that people take responsibility for their actions help create a safe work environment where trust can grow. Empowering employees to speak up is a critical factor in stopping sexual harassment.
Diversity is welcomed, and inclusion is a must. In a culture of respect, organizations hire for, recognize, and value those with different backgrounds, abilities, and viewpoints; and encourage people to work together. They understand that while diversity means making the team, inclusion means playing in the game. Harassment, sexual or otherwise, can’t endure in a truly inclusive environment.
Business and talent practices support respect. Every organizational business and talent process and program should align to provide tangible support for respectful behavior in the workplace—from sourcing and acquisition (including external hiring and internal mobility), performance management, compensation, and other talent practices; to daily business operations. Sexual harassment can’t gain traction if every aspect of enterprise operations is structured to support positive and eliminate negative conduct.
2. Accountability is a powerful weapon against sexual harassment. As employees and managers, all of us must speak up when we encounter problem behavior, and we should encourage others to do so, too. That means being upstanders, not bystanders. We also have to be upstanders when it comes to our own behavior by thoughtfully filtering our words and actions on the job. (One easy way to do this is to use the “guest filter” where you act as if you were a guest in someone's home --being careful to keep what you say and do appropriate and respectful.)
3. It's critically important to ensure that every employee understands the definitions of sexual harassment and set clear expectations for behavior. We all need to know what constitutes appropriate, and inappropriate, behavior in the workplace—how to recognize sexual harassment, and what actions to take when we see it—whether we are an executive, supervisor, or individual contributor.
Engaging, Empowering Training
Establishing a culture of respect that prevents sexual harassment begins with providing compelling, comprehensive training that leaves no doubt. The most engaging and empowering sexual harassment training available today combines masterful storytelling, best practices for prevention and response, insight on creating a culture of respect, and specialized employee and manager versions. Media Partners’ just-released Once & For All: Stopping Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is the comprehensive training solution that delivers all of those features to teach your organization how to STOP sexual harassment at work.
Ending sexual harassment requires all of us to act decisively. Start now with a risk-free, cost-free full-length preview of the definitive training program that is building respectful workplaces Once & For All.