Five Provocative Recommendations to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual Predators can attack in a variety of places, but as an HR professional, I am most disconcerted about abuse in the workplace.

The slew of women coming forward and sharing their experiences with director Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment, followed up by the “me too” social media campaign where millions of women have like wise shared being victims of sexual predators, has truly opened up the discussion around this sensitive topic. Women have been sharing their horrific experiences at the hands of sexual predators in various settings – at home, on the streets out in public, while on dates and even in the workplace.

As a human resources consultant, I find the stories of unaddressed sexual harassment in the workplace particularly upsetting. Women face tremendous risks, placing their livelihoods in jeopardy by reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, especially if it is at the hands of a powerful executive.

One of my close friends posted on Facebook in her “me too” entry:

When I reported the incident and spoke to the woman in HR, her response to me was : ” Oh, I know him…he would never do that!” A report was never filed.

Recently another close friend who I used to work with, an outstanding sharp junior executive, shared of an ongoing pattern of abuse from a senior executive who was so powerful that HR was slow and hesitant to address it. The result was early retirement and needing counseling for depression.

The number of women coming forward to report the abuse at the hands of film producer Harvey Weinstein is astounding. (photo – Business Insider)

Just maybe it is time for some drastic “out-of-the box” measures in corporate America to address this epidemic. Here are my five provocative recommendations:

1) All corporate boards of directors should institute strong policies that dictate that any sexual harassment charge be taken very seriously and investigated thoroughly, especially those against senior level people. And boards must personally take on this critical task and not delegate to internal management.

2) All corporate boards of directors should institute strong policies that protect all human resources practitioners from retaliation for thoroughly investigating workplace harassment charges, especially those against senior level people.

3) Any senior executive proven to have engaged in sexual harassment should be immediately discharged with all stock options and retirement benefits revoked. And to go a step further, those financial resources could be denoted to organizations addressing sexual abuse and harassment.

4) Any HR practitioner who does not take a harassment charge seriously and tries to minimize, excuse it or refuse to investigate it should have their SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) certifications (PHR – Professional of Human Resources) or SPHR (Senior Professional of Human Resources) revoked permanently, and even revocation of SHRM membership should be considered.

5) Any privately held companies without boards of directors that perpetrate a culture of harassment as acceptable or with boards who do not take the first two recommended actions above should be “blacklisted” by SHRM as “HR unfriendly companies.” SHRM should strongly discourage HR practitioners from working for them, thereby cutting these entities off from building professional HR organizations. Also boycotts against doing business with those companies or buying those companies goods or services could be encouraged by women and men who support fair treatment of women.

With the stunning amount of sexual abuse now being publicly exposed, how can we justify not taking strong action?

School Yard Bullying. Workplace Harassment. What’s the Connection?

Late last year I wrote a blog on the macroeconomics of gay bullying, arguing that not only are individual children harmed by bullying, but our entire country and our economic system suffer as well. When kids are bullied in school, whether LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) or for any other reason, they often react by engaging in destructive behavior including turning to drugs and alcohol, and dropping out of school. This in the long term harms our country within the competitive global marketplace.

And now I am in good company. Earlier this month, I was very pleased to see our nation’s president, Barack Obama even address this as a critical national issue. (Link to newspaper article.) This article states that 13 million children a year are bullied, which puts them at much greater risk of falling behind in school and engaging in destructive behavior. President Obama highlighted the need to “dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless right of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not.”

Laura and Kirk Smalley weep in the background while listening to President Obama talk about their family's tragedy. Their 11-year-old son shot himself after being bullied at school.

But let’s take the next step. What happens with the bullies when their bullying is not addressed? They often can grow up and become bullies in corporate America. There is a fancy Human Resources term for this bullying in the extreme – it is called harassment. There are laws as well as corporate policies against harassment. But the bullying can be more subtle and take forms such as employee intimidation and threats of job loss or promotion blocking. This greatly threatens employee productivity as they operate from a sphere of fear instead of freely being able to offer their best to their businesses. Corporations really need to address all forms of employee bullying, blatant and subtle, if they hope to build the highest performing team. A fully inclusive and executed diversity policy that creates a welcoming environment for everyone coupled with “zero tolerance” of any form of workplace harassment, bullying or intimidation will maximize employee job satisfaction, loyalty and productivity.

Thanks to Katie Gailes of SmartMoves International who provided some ideas and inspiration for this blog entry.