Tackling workplace sexual harassment – why policy isn’t enough
You cannot deny the ubiquitous nature work place harassment. What makes this phenomenon so fascinating is that we know it exists and we all agree that from an ethical perspective it shouldn’t be tolerated and needs to be eradicated. Nevertheless, there seems to be an increasing number of cases reported each year, and these are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many men and women that are either too afraid or don’t think their case is serious enough to report.
All businesses have sexual harassment policies in place to safeguard them from potential claims as well as providing guidance to safeguard any employees that do want to make a claim. How is it then, that businesses increasingly choose to silence any reports, choosing instead to brush “the problem” under the carpet with non-disclosure agreements and the like. When powerful bosses are involved the issue becomes even trickier. Not only is the process more complex, but those in charge of the process often perceive the risk of negative PR as being too commercially damaging for the company and its reputation. So businesses end up taking what they believe to be the safest approach. They provide settlements and buy individuals’ silence. They hope that this will stop the problem at its roots. It barely often does as we have seen with the #metoo effect.
Policies are simply not enough. Even if we all agree on the principles, businesses need to empower employees to raise their hand. They need to even empower themselves to stand for what they believe in. I am yet to hear of a business removing its chief executive for wrong doings without having their hand forced first by press reports of sexual harassment claims. How do we change this status quo?
- Apply Corporate Healing measures – There are some organisations that are already seeing the benefits of viewing their employees as more than the collection of skills and expertise required to perform their job. In doing so, they are enabling their employees to be true to themselves and fulfil their potential, which of course benefits both the employee and the organisation. This naturally drives motivation as well as a willingness to live the organisation’s values too. This is because the employee feels that they are valued as a whole person rather than just their job spec. Through wellbeing programmes that go beyond gym memberships these organisations work hard to develop their employees’ assertiveness and EQ thus treating the employee as a human within the collective. They give them the space and tools for inner creativity. They empower them through courses in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and mindset to take ownership of their own destiny in the work place. This in turn reinforces concepts such as purpose and potential.
- Empower communication – The HR management team should never be treated as the organisation’s agony aunt, but as the enabler of more open and empowering communication. Often employees tend to lean on HR to talk on their behalf or will blame the system if an issue they have doesn’t get taken up when in fact, employees need to realise that they should take responsibility and act. If they want a pay rise, they need to be empowered to have the discussion with their manager around what skills, experience they need to demonstrate to deserve such rise. Or if there are any wrong doings, that they can approach their employer and be confident that something will be done about it. Adopting the Corporate Healing approach that I shared above will enable the employees to develop the requisite mindset.
- A zero-tolerance approach. These days, we are close to considering non-disclosure agreements being the catch all solution to bullying and harassment in the workplace. Should we look to the example of other countries, where non-disclosure agreements have to be first approved by the courts? Whether approval is granted depends on the company having an active plan in place to address the situation that caused the harassment to take place. Seems like a sound approach to me.
What is certain is that our view of business culture is changing. An increasing number of companies are looking for a more equitable approach to ways of working, recognising how easily the work life balance can tip in the favour of work, with a realisation that employee wellbeing should now be at the forefront of people policies. There is still a way to go, however the emergence of the #metoo effect and the growing emergence of claims is surely going to provide a long overdue catalyst to greater and more impactful change.
Julie Provino is an international HR leader, founder of VeryHR and the author of How to Get What You Want in 7 Weeks. To find out more go to: www.VeryHR.co.uk