How to Create a Work Culture with Zero Tolerance for Sexual Harassment

Since the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct story broke in recent weeks, corporate America has been forced to refocus on this type of misconduct in a very serious manner. The time for looking the other way or subconsciously accepting sexually charged overtones as “normal” is over. There are three things that every organization must do to address this insidious behavior:

  1. Assume this behavior is always lurking under the surface of day to day operations
  2. Create and promote a zero tolerance sexual harassment environment for the organization
  3. Provide employees with safe, reliable procedures for reporting sexual misconduct

Why? Aside from the most important fact that the harassed person is violated and in some cases victimized, the overall culture of an organization will be forever compromised.

Everyone Knows About It

Seventy percent of employees who experience harassment in the workplace never report it internally.

The top reasons why victims do not come forward:

  • Fear of retaliation
  • Bystander effect (less likely to help someone when others are around)
  • Male-dominated work environments

Just because the “organization” hasn’t been informed doesn’t mean it hasn’t been observed by others. When a complaint is filed and becomes known to the organization at large, coworkers often admit to already knowing about the harassment. In other words, the damage is done. These days, it’s no longer feasible to hide bad behavior and pay the victims to make it “go away”. Those traditional reactions only perpetuate sexual harassment and expose other coworkers to potential abuse from the accused.

As a result, the bad behavior continues, and the work culture deteriorates. What is the solution? Prevent sexual harassment by modeling good behavior and ensuring that everyone knows what is and is not acceptable behavior at work.

Prevention is Key

The reality of sexual harassment in the workplace often results from the cultural acceptance of bad behavior at work. Therefore, management must lead by example. Be respectful to all employees to set the precedent that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated within the organization.

  • If you’re not sure if a comment or action is appropriate, ask a friend or significant other to provide an honest opinion.
  • Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If something you witness makes you feel uncomfortable, the chances are that the target of the comment or action feels uncomfortable.
  • If you hear something inappropriate, call out the offender immediately even when the intended target is not present (e.g. a sexist comment against women in a room full of men).
  • Encourage colleagues to speak up when they witness sexual harassment, even at a minor level. What can seem to be an innocent comment, (“You look nice today, are you going on a date after work?”), may give someone courage to be more bold tomorrow.

Make sure to have clear sexual harassment policies and procedures in place. Introduce all new employees to a clear stance of zero tolerance for any type of sexual harassment. Make sure all new and existing employees know the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) definition of sexual harassment: the behavior/comment does not have to be sexual in nature, but can be interpreted as offensive to that person’s sex. If a comment or action can be taken as offensive by an individual, then it can be construed as a sexual harassment violation under the law.

Be an advocate for your employees. Do not assume that bad behavior will disappear and everyone within the organization “knows better than that”.

  • Make sure management leads by example
  • Establish clear, concise sexual harassment policies and procedures
  • Educate management and staff on a regular basis on what is and is not considered sexual harassment

Need Help Establishing a Zero Tolerance Sexual Harassment Workplace?

SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc. can help your organization establish Sexual Harassment/Discrimination policies and procedure and train your staff on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment /Discrimination. Don’t wait until your employees feel like victims and your work culture becomes toxic. Contact or call 330-255-1101 today and speak with one of our HR specialists for more information.