No one can credibly deny that sexual harassment is a persistent and pervasive problem. It infects all industries; none is immune.
While this blog focuses on sexual harassment, we must create cultures that do not tolerate any kind of harassing behavior, such as harassment based on race, ethnicity, age or disability. Harassment of any kind is the enemy of inclusion.
As employers, we must protect from harassing conduct not only our applicants and employees but also others who work with them. At the same time, we must ensure that there is due process for those who are accused of causing harm; after all, not every complaint is necessarily true.
In all cases, however: every complaint must be taken seriously; every complainant must be treated with respect and dignity; and every investigation must be conducted promptly, thoroughly and impartially. The process by which we investigate harassment claims plays a key role in determining whether employees–as complainants, witnesses or accused–trust the process.
If a company concludes that someone has engaged in sexual assault, unlawful harassment or harassing behavior, even if the harassing behavior is not “bad enough” to be unlawful, an employer must take prompt and proportionate corrective action. Sometimes, but not always, that means termination.
Of course, no matter how strong our commitment to avoiding harassment may be and appropriate corrective action where unacceptable conduct has occurred, our commitment will not be realized, unless there is a culture that does not brook retaliation by anyone of any kind. If people are afraid of retribution, they won’t speak up, the process will fail and individuals will suffer in silence.
To ensure there is neither harassing nor retaliatory behavior, employers must focus on compliance. This includes, by way of example only, a strong anti-harassment policy with a robust complaint procedure and strong assurances against retaliation.
We also must train our leaders not only to avoid bad behavior but also to call it out “in the moment” if they see or hear it. To be silent is to be complicit, and the cultural message resounds loudly.
Our compliance efforts should reflect and reinforce a culture where respect is expected and harassing and other bad behaviors are shunned, indeed condemned. In a strong culture, you don’t get along by going along with harassing conduct. You get along by treating colleagues respectfully.
This is not to suggest compliance is irrelevant and culture is everything. The key is to marry culture and compliance.
Your compliance efforts should improve your culture and your culture must inform your compliance. Bottom line: our compliance efforts must become part of our cultural DNA