The #MeToo movement is changing dynamics in the workplace as the staggering scope of the problem has come to light. Companies need to reexamine their internal policies, encourage change in corporate culture, and address sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination claims more directly. In short, companies must do better. How can they do this? Here are key lessons to take from this moment of reckoning.
Companies MUST Do Better
In every industry, companies need to do a better job educating their employees about handling harassment and other unlawful behavior. Organizations must do more to hold themselves accountable in providing a safe environment in the workplace. The culture within our companies needs to change.
Starting with training, a major overhaul is long overdue. Company training should clearly explain employees’ legal protections under state and federal laws. Enhanced training needs to provide clear examples of unlawful and otherwise inappropriate behavior. The policies and training within the organization must align to encourage employees to carefully document unlawful or inappropriate behavior. Furthermore, they must also teach them how to document it. Critical to the success of the revamped training is walking the employees through the process of who they need to contact in the company, how those people are accountable, and how to escalate if problems are not resolved.
For training to be effective, it needs to trigger an emotional connection. There is a huge gap with straight male workers. Most are clueless to the very real, toxic environment in which women work every day. Company training can go a long way to helping men (and some women) understand and empathize with their co-workers. Company training should include a visualization exercise of how harassment and discrimination can directly impact women in the workplace. How would they feel? Help them understand why they need to take action to affect real cultural change within their organization.
Every organization, big and small, must institute a zero-tolerance policy to protect both the company and its employees from unlawful and inappropriate behavior. Companies need to internalize that there are never any excuses for covering up, supporting, or ignoring unlawful behavior. Zero. While harassment, discrimination, and retaliation are illegal under state and federal law, many companies have done a poor to non-existent job of protecting their employees.
From the top leadership throughout the ranks, the message and responsibilities must be crystal clear: There are no multiple “chances” for employees who harass, discriminate, or otherwise treat their co-workers unlawfully and/or inappropriately. The only outcome after a careful investigation, where the company has determined that the employee acted unlawfully or inappropriately, is swift termination. This includes the mighty, who must fall ignominiously.
Companies must stop protecting high-status offenders. Time’s up – no more shielding, huge legal payoffs, or back room deals. It permeates and infects the culture of the entire organization. Companies need to embrace a culture of transparency. For far too long, they have enabled predators within their organizations. This includes allowing employees who harass and discriminate to change positions within the organization, or move to other companies without a whisper of misconduct. Companies need the legal means to reveal that former employees were let go for misconduct during a reference check by other firms. This will prevent serial perpetrators from effectively moving around.
Let’s be Clear
Employees who violate harassment, discrimination, or retaliation policies are not “brilliant jerks” or top performers. They are a huge risk to their company and a very real and scary risk to their fellow employees. While many companies may already have robust harassment policies, they are often ineffectually implemented, or not enforced. Companies must do better. Organizations need to systematically and consistently enforce very real consequences for unacceptable behavior.
This is a defining moment in the workplace – an opportunity for a lasting cultural shift to create a safer environment for all employees. Through leadership, training, policy refinement, and the vigilant enforcement of the consequences of employee actions, we can achieve a stronger business culture. With these fundamental changes, we are empowered to take action and provide a work environment that is fairer and better for all.
Lynn Whitbeck is the co-founder and President of Petite2Queen. She is focused on identifying and evaluating opportunities for women at work, helping them define their personal roadmap. She dedicates herself to delivering tools and insights, embracing visualization of the big picture, and identifying and implementing the minutiae of detail. Lynn aims to share lessons learned along her journey and enable positive uplift for women.