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HR: 5 Steps to Change Culture of Harassment

(posted: January 28th, 2019)

The power of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements has transformed the sexual harassment discussion from tabloid gossip about the rich and famous into a mainstream workplace issue.

In California, mandatory harassment prevention training can help with concerns like what harassment looks like, how to spot harassment, and what to do when you see it or it's reported to you.

But companies and HR departments can go further, by working to change their workplace culture.

5 Ways to Change Your Culture

1.) Commit to battling bias.
Instead of focusing on behaviors employees should not engage in, promote activities and discussions that focus on behaviors the organization wants to encourage. Invite people to define what an inclusive culture means to them and talk about the hallmarks of a respectful workplace. Don't be derailed by stereotypes and assumptions about who harassers can be. Hearing what other people consider respectful or not can help employees recognize possible biases.

Make sure that top organization leaders are on board and actively participating. Employees model what they see their leaders doing.

2.) Encourage bystander intervention.
Emphasize the importance of bystanders' stepping forward when they witness harassment.

Studies report fairly consistently that 1 in 3 women and about than 1 in 10 men have experienced sexual harassment at work. According to the EEOC, $52.3 million dollars in damages were received from claims in sexual harassment in 2011.

When harassment goes unchecked, the effects on overall culture are detrimental.

Everyone in the organization needs to see what behavior is rewarded and what will move them up the corporate ladder. All employees need to see bystander invention modeled, and the organization's messages about intervention should be communicated so that everybody knows he or she has a role to play. You might even consider bystander training.

3.) Hold people accountable.
Wherever people work, any industry or field, harassment is happening. It will stop when people are held accountable, regardless of who they are or where they work.

The CTI recommends that when handling reports and incident responses, make sure employees can see what HR is doing, which helps them to trust HR and feel that their concerns are taken seriously. Other ways to build safer workplace cultures include implementing periodic surveys and culture audits and discussing anti-harassment policies.

4.) Create a speak-up culture.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Task Force in 2016 found that between 25 percent and 85 percent of women experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. But an organization can't correct a problem if it's unaware that one exists. Employers should create a culture in which everyone in the organization feels comfortable speaking up when there is a problem.

Provide multiple outlets to report transgressions, including a hotline and third-party services, as well as an open-door HR department. Remember that harassment at work is very often perpetrated by an employee's direct supervisor, so employees need to feel that they can take their concerns to someone else without repercussion.

HR should be professional and respectful and show the employee through words and actions that they care about the complaint. Don't make jokes about what the employee is reporting. Don't retaliate or appear to retaliate against the person reporting the problem, make sure you have a strong anti-retaliation policy, and that leaders understand it.

Take the time to listen and ask questions, and let the employee know what you plan to do and that you will follow up.

5.) Assess and address your response culture.
When someone comes forward with a complaint, promptly investigate the claims, regardless of how powerful or how much "star power" the alleged harasser has in the organization.

Companies are obligated to conduct a thorough, good-faith investigation, and the process must be treated as confidentially as possible.

Before movie mogul Harvey Weinstein faced allegations of sexual assault, the EEOC looked at how "superstar harassers," such as those who bring in lucrative clients or deals, often receive preferential treatment from their employers.

However, the study found that "the reputational costs alone can have serious consequences," particularly when it is revealed that managers ignored allegations about a so-called superstar harasser for years.

If the alleged harasser is a top performer, don't send a mixed message by quietly taking away perks or lowering a bonus he or she would normally receive. Instead, be as transparent as possible, and follow through on an investigation's findings, up to and including terminating the employee if appropriate.

We spend a majority of our waking lives at work. Human Resources professionals can lead the charge to make our workplaces welcoming for all employees.

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