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Anti-Harassment – Establishing a Culture of Respect


Sexual harassment has unfortunately been a persistent parasite in the workplace for a very long time with no region, industry, executive level and income brackets being immune to it. Sexual harassment has been a topic which comes up for a period of time then kind of dies down again only to peek its head again a while later. Although many companies had policies in place, many were outdated and ineffective.

The #MeToo movement founded in 2007 became a viral hashtag in 2017 with what started out about calling out the behaviour of American Entertainment executives quickly grew into a global conversation about sexual harassment at work. This increasing conversation with many high profile harassment cases leads to many more people (men and women) coming forward and describing their colleagues’ and even bosses’ sexually abusive behaviours.

As more stories kept coming to light and more people speaking out and demonstrating the problem, growing demand for companies to better handle and prevent harassment emerged. This caused employers to not only see sexual harassment as a legal and moral issue but also one that affects their bottom line as hostile workplaces lead to lower productivity and higher employee turnover. Preventing harassment not only creates a culture of respect but also helps attract talent and improve productivity and since preventing harassment and fostering a respectful office culture go hand in hand, companies are facing a culture mandate, not just a one-off HR ploy.

This growing openness and increase in talk about sexual harassment can be seen by a 71% year on year increase in related content on LinkedIn. This means that the conversations, as difficult as they can be are happening and more awareness is going on which is leading to a change in mentality. It is these small actions by a number of employees which ultimately are adding up to big cultural changes in companies and how they deal with the topic.

Employees are starting to feel as though they are part of the conversation and that their complaints are being heard and action is being taken. Giving ones’ employees a say in the matter will make the process of changing perception or cultural behaviour quicker.

75% of talent professionals have seen a change in employee behaviours in the past 2 years relating to the topic as they have become more vocal and open about harassment issues and started to confront bad behaviour more. This means that the culture is changing towards a more empowered anti-harassment culture.

How employee behaviour is changing


80% of talent professionals state that although their company is tackling harassment, there is still a long way to go and the methods and ways which companies are approaching the problems varies significantly. While the two most common methods of tackling the issue are related to improving communication, few are actually using larger systematic approaches. These systematic approaches include increasing gender diversity at the office and revamping their investigative and disciplinary procedures.

This said, while many companies have zero-tolerance policies towards harassment and have forms of reporting abuse and offer training sessions about the subject, it isn’t enough according to Janine Yancey, CEO at Emtrain who goes further and states that these policies alone don’t work and one needs to create a culture of respect to ensure a safe workplace.

There is some headway in changing this current mentality towards the topic and women believe that having more females in leadership positions is the main component of creating safe workplaces. Female talent professionals see the value of having increased gender diversity as since they disproportionately are the victims of sexual harassment see this as an effective way of tackling the issue. While only a third of male HR Professionals agree that gender diversity will translate to fewer harassment complaints, women use the fact that they are usually the target of such harassment to influence decisions to combat it.

As the Asia Pacific seems to be seriously doing something in combating the issue, with more companies based there launching policies and safe ways to report harassment, companies in Europe are somewhat behind.

Overall only 25% of respondents believe that their company is seriously doing something and adding more safe ways of reporting harassment which is a clear call to action for leaders to take note of.

The following are 4 steps which the report highlights which can combat harassment:

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Before acting, one should take note of where the company stands and what action needs to be taken. This isn’t a one size fits all situation and different companies and teams may require different approaches. Inquire about how the staff feel about anti-harassment policies currently in place and ask for their feedback on what needs to be amended.

Refresh your current policies

Not having any harassment complaints doesn’t mean that your policies are working. This may mean that there is something wrong with the policy’s execution and or how it’s communicated. This step helps you rethink your policy and re-oil its nuts and bolts using the feedback you received from step one. In the case of multiple offices in different locations, one could have the policies amended to the local environment as well.

Train and communicate

One of the most efficient methods of helping your employees navigate delicate situations is by training them how to do so and opening multiple lines of communication. Harassment is often nuanced and not outright assault or physical touching. Many times, employees will not rush to a lawyer over inappropriate comments of gestures so it is important to communicate and train them how to navigate this focusing, especially on grey areas.

Respond and follow-up

Whilst a whole company cannot be held responsible for one bad actor, many times they will be held responsible for how they deal with that bad actor. A company’s response or there-lack-of will affect your employer brand which can mean the difference between retaining your top performers or driving them away. Therefore, helping victims feel safe from the start and checking in and seeing how they are holding up along the way is important.

To close off with, many companies are actively trying to combat the issue some are more hands-on than others. While more awareness is being made, many lack a safe way of reporting abuse cases. This means that companies need to refocus their energies and take measures to fully create a safe working environment as when leaders are seen to be taking the issue seriously then this trickles down to the employee base.

The full report can be viewed here.

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