Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
News and reports of sexual harassment in the workplace have been front and centre. The influx of these reports makes it very apparent that many organizations have systemic problems that perpetuate a toxic work environment. Employers have the responsibility to ensure the work environment is safe and free from any form of workplace harassment. What is your organization doing to ensure it is creating and maintaining a safe workplace for employees?
Employers and executives at the very top of the organization must be the ones taking the lead on prevention against sexual harassment in the workplace. As leaders, you have to step up and take an active role in ensuring a safe workplace culture. It is important for the leadership team to set core values that promote inclusion, diversity, and set a standard for acceptable behaviours. Establishing a corporate culture defined by a set of shared values and attitudes is invaluable. Linking your organization’s values to sexual harassment policies can help keep core values fresh in all employees’ minds. Organizations can create sexual harassment policies that reference the law, but also encourage employees to contribute to a safe and inclusive environment aligned with your organization’s core objectives. For example, policies can require employees to have dignity and mutual respect for each other and require management to be committed to ensuring the workplace is safe.
Organizations can also ensure there is awareness and understanding of sexual harassment in the workplace by providing training for all employees. Remember, when you train your employees to provide specific examples that they can relate to and clearly understand. For example, training for a manufacturing company should use real life examples of sexual harassment situations in a plant. To ensure employees fully understand, it is recommended to bring in Human Resources or Employment Law experts to deliver the training. Besides providing expertise, outsourcing Human Resources training and support may help employees feel more comfortable to approach HR as an objective third party. Sexual harassment training should also be customized for all managers and top-level leaders so they are able to recognize any inappropriate behaviors, address it immediately and know how to handle complaints if and when they occur.
Beyond training, leaders of the organization are also accountable for fostering a workplace environment where victims feel comfortable with coming forward. A healthy workplace culture can only be achieved if it is exemplified on a daily basis by all members of the organization. Every employee should be held accountable to the organization’s shared values and sexual harassment policies while taking into account structures of power and status. This means setting the tone at all managerial levels where people in power are not exempt from disciplinary action if they fail to behave respectfully to others in the workplace. It needs to be communicated and reinforced that there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace. Employees should also be trained on how to respond and handle situations whereby they believe sexual harassment is taking place.
Sexual harassment exists across all industries. The most effective way to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace is prevention. Employers and leaders of the organization must take the lead on this and ensure they create a safe workplace culture that does not tolerate sexual harassment. A successful organization reflects its leadership’s values, therefore an effective solution requires strategic and sustained reinforcement from the leadership team.