In times of crisis and disruption—such as those we’ve all experienced in the past year—the elements that remain reliable constants in our lives take on greater importance. There is perhaps no more vital constant for organizations and their employees than company culture.
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and that is an excellent time to highlight the critical role that effective training and a healthy and respectful organizational culture play in combating sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault in the world’s workplaces.
About Sexual Assault Awareness Month
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The non-profit National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) coordinates the campaign to “raise public awareness about sexual violence, educate communities on how to prevent it, and bolster prevention efforts throughout the year.”
The need for increased awareness has only been heightened over the past year during which the world experienced a high degree of disruption. Reporting that one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, the World Health Organization points out that emergencies, such as the global pandemic, “exacerbate violence, increasing vulnerability and risks.”
In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) confirmed 6,587 reports of sexual harassment in 2020, a year that saw significantly decreased occupancy of many business facilities as employees were sent home to work.
Reinforcing the need for organizations to do their part in combatting sexual harassment and assaults, the NSVRC’s Laura Palumbo says, “We can stop sexual harassment and abuse before it happens by addressing the bigger picture in which it occurs.”
What Can Organizations Do to Prevent Sexual Misconduct and Harassment in the Workplace?
Deliver Comprehensive and Engaging Sexual Harassment Prevention Training. A comprehensive approach provides information on all forms of sexual misconduct and harassment and what to do when you see or are the target of these behaviors. The training should encompass pre-training, training and post-training components at the individual and group levels.
Follow Through. An especially important key to success in sexual harassment prevention training involves avoiding the trap of a one-and-done attitude. The initial training be reinforced through the use of assessments and refresher training on an annual basis
Provide Manager-Specific Training. In so doing, organizations emphasize the fact that sexual harassment is a problem that every manager must handle while enabling managers to recognize the early signs of harassment and how to quickly and constructively intervene so the problem doesn’t escalate.
Turn Bystanders into Upstanders. Bystander intervention training can help increase a sense of accountability, where employees are expected to speak up and even file their own complaints when they witness sexual harassment involving another employee. Empowering people in this way has proven to be an important part of sexual harassment prevention success.
Building a Culture of Respect is Fundamental
In organizations that emphasize a culture of respect, company values lay the foundation for success by formalizing the commitment to a positive work environment. Leaders and employees work together to create and maintain an atmosphere of trust, in which both physical and psychological safety are paramount. A few other core traits characterize respectful organizational cultures:
Treatment of all centers on courtesy, civility, and dignity, which includes acknowledging the value every person brings to the workplace. Acting with integrity, taking accountability, and assuming a we-have-each-other’s-backs mindset embody respectful behavior toward colleagues and others.
Efforts to minimize the impact of bias and eliminate discrimination ensure that no employees or groups of employees are favored (or disfavored) over others.
Prevention of bullying and harassment means that insults, intolerance, and offensive behavior—sexual harassment, in particular—not only aren’t tolerated, they are actively addressed through effective intervention and enforcement measures.
Encouragement of diversity and inclusion builds strong organizations when employees and leaders represent varied generations, races, ethnicities, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, economic and educational levels, physical/mental abilities, and other attributes.
Insistence on open and transparent communication through all levels of the organization reinforces company values and behavior expectations, and provides the foundation for trust, respectful treatment, and effective relationships. It also ensures an environment in which employees can feel safe standing up and speaking up when discrimination, harassment, bullying, or other inappropriate conduct is observed.
Commitment to integrity and ethics in all behaviors, interactions with others, and business transactions means that respectful culture transcends the organization. Not only are employees treated with courtesy and respect, but that assurance extends to customers, suppliers, potential job applicants, other external stakeholders, and the communities in which companies operate.
Respectful Cultures Benefit Everyone
For organizations that provide high-quality, safe, and respectful work environments, top rewards include greater levels of productivity and enhanced organizational performance that ultimately translate into better bottom-line business results.
Respectful cultures also support higher levels of overall employee well-being which, in turn, enables workers to perform and contribute more effectively. Employees who needn’t fear for their physical or emotional safety at work are freed toinvest their energies in:
collaborating with colleagues
developing new products and services
creating and maintaining strong relationships with customers, and
growing their personal and professional skills
Organizations have unique opportunities to spearhead solutions to decrease sexual assault and harassment, along with bullying, discrimination, workplace violence, and other threats to the safety and well-being of individuals. Adopting company values, mandating effective training programs, and insisting on work environments that center on respect are important steps toward safer and more rewarding lives for us all.
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