Three years into the #MeToo movement, workplace sexual harassment prevention is front and center in the minds of many corporate leaders and people teams. But not every organization knows where to begin. Here are 5 simple things employers can do to create a safe workplace.
Your culture-building checklist
1. Update Your Values & Policies
Start by creating a corporate culture of respect and inclusion that values all employees in their wonderful diversity of experiences, cultural backgrounds, and identities. Outlining your company’s core values in your policies and Code of Conduct are good first steps, and you’ll want to put those words into action. Without clear expectations, your employees can't uphold the values of your organization.
2. Walk Your Talk
The impetus for a culture of respect, safety and, inclusion starts with leadership embodying those core values in their everyday interactions. For instance, do your C-suite leaders treat all their employees with the same level of respect, regardless of their relative position in the company? How transparent is their decision-making process around issues of harassment and misconduct? Are they willing to hold accountable the senior VP who has sexually harassed an entry-level administrative assistant? Or do they simply give their peer a slap on the hand?
According to the EEOC's 2016 report, "Workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment.The importance of leadership cannot be overstated – effective harassment prevention efforts, and workplace culture in which harassment is not tolerated, must start with and involve the highest level of management of the company.”
It’s crucial that companies ensure sexual harassment prevention efforts are given the necessary time and resources to be effective, starting with a strong Human Resources function.
3. Build a Trustworthy HR Dept.
To effectively promote workplace safety and build trust with employees, your HR department needs to ensure:
- Anti-harassment policies are clearly communicated, not solely in writing but through engaging in-person trainings that go beyond compliance
- Your staff is continually educated and participates in conversations around respectful, safe workplace interactions, consent and boundaries, and how to interrupt unwelcome conduct
- Management addresses issues as they arise – rather than allowing them to fester
- Sexual harassment reporting mechanisms are established to ensure the safety and confidentiality of everyone involved
- Action is always taken and that those who engage in harassment are held responsible in a meaningful, appropriate, and proportional manner
4. Equip New Managers with the Tools They Need
Nearly half of employees said they’ve quit a job because of a bad manager, 56% think managers are promoted prematurely and 60% think managers need managerial training.
How do we expect new managers who were peers to their co-workers a week ago to suddenly hold accountable those same people? And to follow proper protocol when reporting harassment and misconduct? This is not intuitive or easy. We must provide them with appropriate managerial training so they can effectively contribute to promoting a culture of safety, respect and empathy.
5. Cultivate Empathy Across Your Organization
“Ninety percent of CEO's believe empathy is directly linked to a company's financial performance, while 93 percent of employees say they're more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. But, an increasing number of employees don't think their employer is empathetic, leaving the door open for lost talent at organizations that can't close the 'empathy gap'.
Because empathy is linked to retention, it is incumbent upon employers to cultivate an environment that incentives open and clear communication, the valuing of our many facets of diversity, and the new golden rule: treat others as they wish to be treated. That includes addressing people by their preferred names and gender pronouns and respecting co-workers’ levels of comfort around touch (hugs or no hugs?), language, and images shared in each other’s presence.
Finally, to understand whether your employees feel their workplace is welcoming and free from discrimination, harassment, and violence, we recommend implementing anonymous climate surveys that include targeted questions related to felt levels of safety, respect, and inclusion. And to use those findings to continually foster positive culture change for the benefit and safety of all employees.