Tag Archives: leadership

ByRita Sever

Harassment: What Can Leaders Do?

What Leaders Can Do about Harassment,

Men may be surprised about the recent outpouring of sexual harassment accusations.  Women are not.  We know it is real; we know it happens all the time and we all know that it could happen to us.  No matter how young, old, pretty, powerful, strong or educated we are.

For 10 years, all employers in CA with 50 or more employees have been mandated to provide harassment prevention training to all supervisors every two years.  Unfortunately, for too many organizations this has become simply one more “HR” requirement. The overriding message has been “Get the compliance box checked.”

Leadership has too often been asleep at the wheel.  Leaders have looked the other way.  You skip the trainings or look at your phone throughout the whole meeting.  These actions reinforces that it is simply an “HR” issue.  It’s not an “HR” issue; it’s a leadership issue.  And it is a respect issue.

It’s all about respect

It’s about recognizing that your experience is not the same as someone who is different from you.  It’s about providing a work place that provides a culture of respect, safety, engagement and growth for people.  All people.  Not just men.  Not just white folks.  Not just the majority – whatever the majority is for that particular work group as well as in the country.

It is not until our workplace cultures dig into what respect looks like for the people who work in that culture that we can start to move beyond this messy and hurtful place as a society. This takes time, attention, conversations and action.  The actions of leaders are one of the strongest factors in building the culture of an organization.  And nowhere is this more true than in the area of harassment, respect and how staff are treated. Until you can model respectful interactions and humility in the face of someone’s alternate view of reality, the lawsuits will just keep coming.

Involved Leaders Can Model the Change

I have seen this change happen.  I have seen the pro-forma training, and culture, change when a leader like you steps up.  When a leader asks, out loud, how can I do this better and sincerely listens to the answers.  When a leader seeks coaching because he recognizes that his staff is not trusting him.  Things shift when a leader speaks up about his own concerns about harassing behavior. THEN you get the attention of staff.  THEN you start having real conversations.  THEN the culture starts to change because staff sees, and feels, that this is different.

Ten Action Steps

Here’s ten things you can do to instill, and enhance, culture of respect:

  1. Don’t reward the bullies.
  2. Walk the talk.  If you say you have a zero tolerance policy for harassment, then show it.  Don’t make exceptions and don’t look the other way.
  3. Make sure your harassment policy is clearly written, available and followed.
  4. Believe people. This doesn’t mean you don’t investigate and listen to the accused side of the story but, at the least, suspend your disbelief when you hear a complaint.
  5. Institute conflict resolution policies and train people on them. (Not so that people have to address their harassers but so people know they are respected and empowered to address problems.)
  6. Conduct in-person trainings (or conversations after on-line trainings) to underline that this is not just a “check-the-box” issue – this is real and important.
  7. Train your supervisors. Make sure they know have the tools to supervise in a clear, engaging, supportive, and accountable manner without resorting to intimidation and autocracy.
  8. Give managers and HR the autonomy and authority to confront disrespect and inappropriate behavior long before it becomes illegal harassment.
  9. Claim a value of inclusion and train people to not just tolerate others but to value and include non-mainstream voices in decision making. Recognize this as a value added proposition.  Model it.
  10. Say good morning. Say thank you.  Say please and excuse me and how are you?  Be human together.

Yes, some of this takes time and money.  (And some of it doesn’t.)  Know that any money you invest in this will save you lots more money in the long run – and sometimes in the short run too.  Remember that lawsuits are terribly inconvenient and much more expensive than anything on this list.  And the value of building a culture of respect that makes all employees feel valued and engaged?  Priceless!