In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein news, I invite the HR community to join me in a dialogue on how we can help women feel safer at work. Safe regardless of job, industry or zip code. Period. Full stop. End of sentence.
The misuse of power through sexual harassment is not new. For decades, women have felt the pressure to be quiet or look past lewd behavior. Twenty-six years ago, Anita Hill told her story of harassment she experienced from her boss. She was ridiculed and called a liar, but she found her voice and told her story. Over the past 26 days, millions of women have come forward to join Anita Hill and share their stories. Each time a woman or man speaks up against harassment we give voice to those coming up the ladder behind us. We plant a seed of bravery in women regardless of the workplace—on the factory floor, the box store checkout lane, the lab, and the boardroom.
Our HR community is in a unique position to lead that very change. Now is a great time to take a step back and evaluate how our organizations handle situations involving sexual harassment, and more importantly, what can be done to bring it to a screeching halt.
What can we do?
- Evaluate policies. Does your organization have a policy in place that lays out how a claim of sexual harassment should be handled? If not, now is the time to develop one. HR professionals will often be the first responders to an employee who has experienced sexual harassment. The employee, regardless of pedigree, should feel secure and reassured that her claim will be heard. Ensure both your body language and words make an employee feel safe when they are brave enough to come forward. They should be reassured their claim is serious and will be confidentially handled and without retaliation. Develop a zero-tolerance attitude to all matters involving discrimination and disrespect. Provide confidential hotlines for reporting unethical, illegal and discriminatory matters. Identify 1-2 ombudspersons, and implement training for leaders on how to avoid misusing power.
- Bridge the gender gap. This could be a whole blog by itself, but simply put, we need more women in influential roles in the workplace. Often, women talk quietly amongst themselves about the injustices they experience, but shy away from a public conversation for fear of retaliation or being ridiculed. If a woman could look 2-3 levels up and see another woman in power, someone who won’t be taken advantage for her desire to succeed or fear of being judged, it would strengthen the culture of courage we need in the workplace. Leadership teams and board of directors need a more even ratio of male to female members. Companies should create high potential leadership programs to develop more female leaders, and also create promotion opportunities for women through effective succession planning. Hold Women’s Summits to learn what challenges women face when pursuing management roles within the company, and how your organization can attract top female talent and retain them.
- Do a culture check. What is your organization’s vibe on harassment or discrimination? Do employees feel comfortable speaking up without retaliation? Is there an understood zero tolerance for specific behavior? We can further insulate women from risk by creating a safer and responsive space that welcomes truth and doles out negative consequences for disrespect or turning a blind eye. Create employee Culture Clubs to foster a workplace that encourages a safer environment for all. Women deserve to feel safe at work, and male colleagues must feel obligated to not only respect women, but also speak up against their colleagues who misuse power and take advantage of their female coworkers.
This long overdue problem deserves a permanent solution which can be expedited by our HR community. As the founder and president of Inspire Human Resources, I stand with all the women coming forward to tell their stories, and the women who are still finding their voice. Together, we can bring an end to sexual harassment in the workplace. Please join the dialogue by reaching out to me at [email protected] or (917) 612-8571.