Today’s business environment is hyper-focused on sexual harassment. In Hollywood, business, media, government, and many other sectors, women and men are publicly sharing their stories of being victimized at work by co-workers, supervisors, and those in positions of power. However, more sexual harassment claims are filed in the restaurant industry than in any other in the country, almost 90% of women and 70% of men have reportedly experienced some form of sexual harassment, according to a recent report.
Routine harassment of service workers is unfortunately becoming an event more prevalent by managers, coworkers, and customers, often failing to catch headlines as some of the more high-profile stories have been. When it comes to sexual harassment efforts, most employers are focused on defense, compliance and claims prevention. While these are all critically important, corporate America should also be looking at the issue offensively, striving to create a culture in the workplace that fosters respect for all employees.
Creating the right corporate culture will do more than just avert a sexual harassment crisis – it’ll set the right tone for the entire organization. But, it doesn’t come easy.
Consider the following steps to building a healthy corporate culture that combats sexual harassment:
Step 1: Train everyone.
The number one reason employees don’t do what they’re supposed to do is because they don’t know what they’re supposed to do. Sounds obvious, but unfortunately, it’s not. Training needs to move beyond just telling employees what not to do, and should instead present clear expectations, provide resources to help employees understand accountability and how their actions do, or don’t fit within the company’s culture. Employees should also be told that reporting harassment won’t result in retaliation, such as a negative employment action. Studies show that the most effective training is in person, interactive and tailored for the specific workplace and job functions.
Step 2: Put methods in place.
Where policies and procedures are lacking is where the greatest risk for sexual harassment lies. Having a policy around romance in the workplace clearly outlines expectations of managers and employees when it comes to personal relationships. Policies like these are important because sexual harassment issues can arise out of a previously consensual relationship, or when one has direct control over another’s employment. Having well thought-out policies that treat all employees – C-suite, managers, wait-staff etc. the same – is critical.
Step 3: Assign leadership to back it.
Companies can put policies and procedures in place and train managers and employees to work together, but if the leadership of the company doesn’t exhibit those behaviors then they won’t be successful. Leadership must model good boundaries. Leading by example, managers that show respect for one another and those across the workforce will breed an open, honest corporate culture. Engaging in training, feedback, coaching and mentorship from the top down, all create an environment of engagement that can foster healthy discussions when tougher issues arise – like sexual harassment in the workplace.
Step 4: Set up a reporting structure.
Because many victims won’t report sexual harassment in the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggests making it easier for employees by: 1. Designating multiple mangers to take harassment complaints. This increases the odds that victims will have someone they’re comfortable with and 2. Accountability also includes a reward system. If leadership holds managers accountable and recognizes and rewards responsiveness to anti-harassment efforts by managers, that speaks volumes.
Step 5: Have the right coverage.
An employer can do everything right – establish a positive corporate culture, execute effective training, institute policies and procedures, engage leadership and create a large reporting structure – and they could still face a claim.
It has never been more important for employers to secure the right employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) before they need it.
While these efforts may seem obvious, the reality is that the training employees in common courtesies and fostering a corporate culture that is respectful toward everyone is critical. Remembering the right and wrong way to talk to people, appropriate parameters for both verbal and non-verbal communications creates a corporate culture that is safe for everyone.