Sexual Harassment: A Cultural Change

Guest blog written by: Lorrie Howard, Horizon Point Consulting

Sexual harassment is not pervasive due to a need to change the law, but instead the need to change cultural values within an organization. This was the message I heard recently at an HR conference. In all the years that I have conducted sexual harassment training and helped organizations to implement policies, procedures, and conduct investigations, I’d never thought about it that way. But it makes sense.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made sexual discrimination, including sexual harassment, illegal. So why over fifty years later is sexual harassment making waves in the headlines? We’ve all heard the stories of Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill Cosby, and the list goes on. How were they allowed to conduct themselves in such a manner for so long without repercussion?

A former co-worker recently shared a story with me about a manager where she worked making unwanted advances towards a younger seasonal employee. While the employee did not report this behavior to management, she did complain to another employee who was compelled to report it. The result? She was terminated and told that because the position was seasonal, she just wasn’t needed any longer. An investigation into the complaint was never conducted.

The company in question has a sexual harassment policy in place, they have a very detailed investigation process. But in this case, those tools were useless because the company’s cultural values didn’t match what their policy stated. Many of the women whose stories we’ve heard in the headlines had similar experiences. They tried to report the behavior and were told it was no big deal or to just let it go.

So how do we change the cultural values toward sexual harassment in the workplace?

Changing the company culture includes:

  • Taking each and every complaint seriously, conducting a thorough investigation, and taking action to cease the behavior. If employees understand that such behavior won’t be tolerated, they’re much less likely to act in such a manner in the workplace.
  • Providing sexual harassment training to all employees within your organization, creating an open-door culture where employees feel safe bringing forth such complaints, and where they know that their complaints will be taken seriously. If employees know that they will be taken seriously, they are more likely to file a report. If your organization gets a reputation for ignoring complaints, employees won’t speak up and many will eventually leave the organization.
  • Training leadership on how to respond to such complaints, how to conduct investigations, and how to help move the company culture in the right direction by modeling the appropriate behaviors. Many managers admit that they don’t know how to respond to such complaints and receiving such complaints makes them uncomfortable, so instead of addressing it, they ignore it.
  • Reviewing company policies on workplace relationships and determining what is appropriate for your organization. Where does your organization draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate workplace relationships?

By taking complaints of sexual harassment seriously, utilizing the tools your organization already has in place, and providing training to your staff, you can begin to move your organization’s cultural values in the right direction.

To read more about sexual harassment in the workplace, check out these posts:

#MeToo and the Onslaught of Sexual Harassment Training Requests

3 Ways to Make your Workplace Harassment Training Successful

Guest Blogger

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