10,000-15,000 – that’s how many sexual harassment charges are filed in the United States every year. It’s only a fraction of the true numbers – an estimated 75% of infractions go unreported. Companies can stop workplace harassment, but they need to go beyond the idle talk of awareness training. We can’t just create awareness, we need to change behavior.
To bring about real change in the workplace, leadership must take responsibility for the culture it has created and what it must become in the future. Leadership and Management, together, are responsible for owning that company culture – and ultimately changing it. Culture dictates whether harassment will either live on or die out. Here are a few thoughts for leadership to consider:
- Zero tolerance for sexual harassment should be a clear and consistent message from top to bottom. Harassers with no consequences, won’t stop.
- Sexual harassment is more about power than it is about sex – a form of bullying, exerting control. Create a culture based on respect to keep such power-plays in check.
- Retaliation is a real concern for those effected – three-quarters of victims face reprisals if they report an infraction. That’s unacceptable. Your company must make it safe for those affected to speak up.
- Witnesses and bystanders are part of the dynamic. Empower your people to support a harassment-free workplace: if you see something, say something.
- Men should be allies for equality. For leadership and management, especially if those individuals are mostly male, the responsibility for a safe culture is yours to build. Let your employees know that you expect a mutually respectful culture, and that you support colleagues calling each other out on inappropriate behavior.
- Policies, emails and messaging from HR aren’t enough – Leaders need to lead!
Get Tough, Be Real
Take the Teddy Roosevelt approach: speak softly and carry a big stick. Start with compassion. A company culture that’s based on respect for everyone – and a commitment to being a great place to work – requires that employees know that you put people first.
Once that’s established, the message to employees is this: if you can’t respect your coworkers, then you’re not a good fit for our company.
Equality and respect in the workplace – equality for gender, race, age, disability and other distinctions – those convictions should be carved into the marble walls, not scribbled on the white board in erasable ink.
To shift from awareness to action, and stop sexual harassment for good, companies need to instill permanent cultural expectations. Make it part of your company’s identity. That takes work, and it takes commitment.
If you’re not sure how to begin, let us help. In our consulting work at Options4Growth we highlight the importance of cultural values, and we help companies create vibrant workplaces where everyone is respected. With our OpaConnect software solution we provide the tools to make cultural values part of everyday work and conversation.
Join us in committing to a healthy culture based on equality and respect. It’s time.
President, Options4Growth & OpaConnect®