Should Employers Rethink Traditional Sexual Harassment Prevention Strategies?

No one is safe from sexual harassment accusations it seems, as many powerful individuals in entertainment, media and politics have recently learned. The floodgates have opened, and it doesn’t appear that the tide is slowing down anytime soon. But it’s not just Hollywood or Washington that is at risk. That’s why this marks the first in a series of posts about workplace sexual harassment and what to do about it.

All employers should be concerned and need to make sure they are tackling the issue of sexual harassment in the right manner and avoiding common mistakes. The fundamentals any organization should have in place to address sexual harassment include:

  • A zero tolerance sexual harassment policy;
  • Harassment training;
  • A multichannel complaint process;
  • Investigation procedures; and
  • Retaliation protections.

However, it’s often important to go beyond the normal basics. Here are some things to keep in mind when evaluating your company’s approach to sexual harassment.

Training Isn’t Everything

Although sexual harassment training is important, and even required in some states, it is not the end-all-be-all solution for preventing sexual harassment. One significant problem with training is that even if it is required for employees, they may not really be engaged with the message. For example, a lot of employers use online training that employees can simply click through, which doesn’t guarantee that employees are paying attention or even retaining the information.

To help improve engagement, an employer should tailor its training to the needs of particular locations, departments and types of employees. Not every organization is the same, and even different locations and departments in the same company may have different needs. Think about the best way to engage your entire workforce when you are planning your harassment training, and don’t forget that the best plan may not be the same for everyone.

Reporting Comfort Level

Many individuals are sharing their harassment experiences, but are being questioned about why it took them so long to come forward. In most cases, employees delay reporting sexual harassment because they are afraid of retaliation in the form of:

  • Losing their jobs;
  • Having their careers derailed;
  • Being blackballed;
  • Being labeled as too sensitive; or
  • Becoming the subject of gossip and criticism.

Sexual harassment victims need to feel comfortable coming forward to make a complaint. They need to have confidence that their organization has a fair process in place where a complaint will be properly taken care of and investigated. They also need to feel reassured that they will not be further victimized or retaliated against for speaking out.

Another theme in many of the accounts in the deluge of harassment scandals over the last few months is the lack of direction about what to do after the individuals had been victimized. Sometimes employees are unsure how to report and address harassment because of their corporate structure or because their organization lacks a traditional HR department. Other employers may have a problem because victims think their HR department will prioritize protecting the organization over them.

To this end, an employer needs to make sure it has a clear, multilevel reporting process that both victims and observers can use to report any type of harassment in the workplace. Additionally, employers should consider adding some type of anonymous reporting component to their system to make sure no one is falling through the cracks.

Shifting Culture

Ultimately, it’s not just lack of training, policies or procedures that causes instances of sexual harassment. It often has something to do with an organization’s culture. Employers need to make sure their culture is aligned with their organization’s values and take a holistic approach to sexual harassment prevention.

An employer’s culture often starts at the top so having your executive team buy in to a culture that refuses to tolerate sexual harassment is key. Of course, this means they must be held to the same standards as the rest of the workforce and should be educated and trained on the organization’s approach to harassment. Examples of ways your executive team can properly show its commitment to the organization’s policies include:

  • Having a high-level executive circulate the sexual harassment policy;
  • Communicating the importance of the policy in a consistent and frequent manner;
  • Stressing that the organization will not tolerate harassment;
  • Developing a “See Something, Say Something” culture; and
  • Enforcing harassment policies by taking quick and decisive action when appropriate.

How does your organization tackle sexual harassment? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

 

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