TIP TUESDAY: Addressing Sexual Harassment in Your Workplace

{excerpted from an article by Kevin Sheridan, Employee Engagement and Management Expert, HR Daily Advisor online}

Recent headlines have been littered with numerous stories of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and rape. Sadly, sexual harassment is so pervasive that we sometimes don’t see it. Gender inequality in the workplace has gotten better over the years, but it’s still a far cry from giving men and women equal opportunities. As a result, despicable men often use their power and influence to coerce and take sexual advantage of women who simply want to advance their careers.

This puts women in an incredibly difficult place. They are forced to decide whether to ignore inappropriate behavior that truly should be punished or risk their reputation and career by confronting or speaking out against someone who has a much more powerful position. Many women choose to ignore inappropriate behavior, which makes these despicable men think they can get away with continuing to act like creeps and criminals. It’s turned into a disgusting cycle.

As the father of two intelligent and talented girls who will be entering the workforce in the near future, the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace terrifies me. It’s hard to know where to start fixing such a big problem, but a good place to focus is gender equality in the workforce. If more women hold positions of power and earn similar wages as men, the power balance will shift, and sexual harassment should decrease. We need to start by questioning the status quo.

Shockingly, nearly 50% of men think that when just 1 in 10 senior leaders of their company is a woman, that’s enough. Nearly as remarkable is that roughly a third of woman agree. In addition, men and women have very disparate perspectives on that progress:

  • My company is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity.
    Men: 63% agree
    Women: 49% agree
  • My company often or always addresses disrespectful behavior toward women quickly.
    Men: 55% agree
    Women: 34% agree

If we can change how we think about gender inequality and demand better, progress can move quicker than the current glacial pace.

So, what can YOU do to correct this injustice? Here are 8 concrete steps:

  • Make a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and gender inequality part of your corporate culture.
  • If you’re a senior Human Resources (HR) leader, make a compelling business case for gender diversity, and link it both to business results and employee engagement.
  • Help women feel comfortable coming forward so that instances of harassment are reported to HR, the harasser’s manager, the Equal Employment Opportunity officer and, if applicable, police authorities.
  • Safeguard that all incidences are documented and, if possible, videotaped. Be as specific as possible, recording dates, times, places, and possible witnesses. Also, record to whom the incident was reported, as well as their responses.
  • Make use of your company resources. Check the company handbook and follow the related company policy accordingly. If company policies are lacking, ask that they be updated.
  • Recognize the critical role managers play. Given that managers make the day-to-day decisions that influence women’s careers, they are in the best position to protect and support their fair and equal treatment. Acknowledge that managers may need more training to properly address issues.
  • Support coworkers who have experienced harassment, and encourage them to come forward and report what happened.
  • Publicly share your experience using the hashtag #MeToo. The more women who do so the better, since it will give the world an accurate sense of the magnitude of the problem.

No company can afford to leave top talent left out, ignored, and treated unfairly. And in a country founded on the value of equality, everyone deserves a fair chance, regardless of his or her gender, race, values, background, or beliefs.