Not Your Mother’s Sexual Harassment Prevention!

Note – sexual harassment is in the news today but disrespectful behavior toward others includes ethnic background, race or age, etc. The approach noted here can help organizations prevent harassment of any kind.

What’s the Strategic Goal?

The goal is to reduce and eliminate workplace harassment of any kind by:

  • Developing a pro-social, healthy and respectful culture
  • Raising leaders’ consciousness of the power dynamics at the heart of unreported sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Helping leaders to understand the relationship between culture and the behavior in which negative dynamics take hold
  • Elevating the importance of boundary setting by women with the support of men in deterring illegal harassment.

Guiding principles

Every employee has the right to a workplace free of abuse and intimidation. Human Resource Professionals must have a strong advocacy and operational role in preventing sexual (and other forms of) harassment. Harassment is complex and requires 360-degree cultural effort to minimize both employee personal harm and litigation against the company and its supervisors.

Recent, numerous public disclosures of long-standing protected harassment have shown us that the go-to passive and compliance-based sexual harassment prevention programs are simply not effective.

The problem of disrespectful behavior in the workplace is not a legal issue. It is a behavioral and cultural issue. Yes, we need to understand the legal concepts but if that is where the employer training stops, it will not prevent romantic behavior that crosses the line. We have to be willing to discuss behavior and other sensitive topics in an interactive way.

 8 Elements of a Successful Sexual Harassment Prevention Campaign

1.  Stated pro-social, healthy and respectful culture

The organization must make Culture a priority which starts with describing the cultural ideal. Healthy culture must include healthy social relationships, ethics/lawfulness, respect and accountability for untoward behavior.

 2. 360-Degree prevention structure

To be successful, any harassment prevention initiative must be championed at the top; reflected in leadership words and action; reflected in rank and file words and action; and be encouraged by HR programs and structures.

 3. Healthy Boundary development and social dynamics

Women must feel free to say no to any overture she wishes to decline. Men must be oriented to hear and respect the no. Women must be oriented to be clear in their refusal. Men must be oriented to support any women’s refusal and back her up in the moment.

 4. The Continuum of offensive behavior

Offensive behavior is a continuum with each level requiring a thoughtful and proportional response. There is a difference between an innocent request for a date among similarly situated employees and a male employee at any level who will not take no for an answer. Finally talk is not the same as assault and not all illegal sexual harassment is assault.

 5. The Continuum of consequences

The organization must have a continuum of swift, clear consequences that match the nature of the offensive behavior. Sometimes the consequence is coaching and better awareness. Sometimes the consequence is termination. You can’t be afraid to terminate and you shouldn’t terminate based upon accusations alone.

6. Human Resources’ Role

The leader of Human Resources should report to the President/CEO and be both empowered to maintain the culture, AND be willing to speak the truth to shine a light on untoward behavior among employees, especially when a leader is in the wrong.

 7. Key HR Structures

All HR programming and structures should be aligned with the culture and a comprehensive approach articulated in this article. HR programming must include the fair and thoughtful process for responding to harassment complaints. Victims and offenders take lessons from every accusation made and response by the company.

 8. Ongoing employee training and orientation

New employee orientation starts with an orientation on the desired culture. Preventing harassment of any kind includes but is not limited to compliance-based training. In addition, compliance-based training must be more than sitting employees in front of a stiff, outdated video. Leadership orientation includes additional matters owing to their role and both groups require ongoing refreshers, examples and reminders. Human behavior will not maintain a positive standard when management is silent.

Special thank you to @joanncorley founder of The Human Sphere, for her contribution to the concepts included here and her professional support on this topic.

Contact the author with questions or comments.
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