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?

Tom Rath on “Being Fully Charged in the Workplace”

Tom Rath, 2016 NC State SHRM Conference Keynote Speaker (photo from NC SHRM Conference website)

Tom Rath, 2016 NC State SHRM Conference Keynote Speaker (photo from NC SHRM Conference website)

In addition to the outstanding kick-off keynote from leading transgender activist Janet Mock (see link to last week’s blog), the North Carolina SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) team scheduled another great keynote for the second day of the conference. Tom Rath, a multiple-time New York Times Best Seller list author spoke about how to be fully charged in the workplace. As employee engagement continues to decline, this is a key issue that companies must address.

Tom started with a very disturbing statistic – that 49% of people surveyed felt that they were not spending time doing impactful work in their daily vocational activities vs. the mere 22% who answered that question positively. (Remainder were neutral or provided no anwer.)

Some of Tom’s key points:

• We need to really increase this 22% who feel they do meaningful work. Some tactics include realizing that small wins generate meaningful progress, and when people see meaning in their work, they create more.

• Three key components of increasing meaningful work include having interest in what you do, focusing on skills you are good at, and meeting the needs of others.

• Top performers are not often well-rounded, but great teams are.

• In daily interactions, most people need five positive interactions for every negative one. It is therefore important at work to lead with the positive and acknowledge people for their good work.

• When listing the top good and the bottom bad interactions during a typical day, interactions with friends and family where at the top, and two very worst were co-workers and bosses.

• Only 11% of people answered positively to “I had a great deal of energy yesterday.” Small changes in proper eating, fitness and sleeping can lead to big changes in energy. Scary Fact: going 6 days in row with less than 6 hours a sleep per night is the same as operating at a .08 blood alcohol level (DUI level in most states)

• Social networks and social structures can have a tremendous impact on encouraging positive healthy behaviors. Example: smoking in our culture.

Tom then closed with three challenges to us as HR leaders in how we can lead as examples:

1. What changes will I make in my daily routines to model to others that I am putting my health first?

2. What steps will I take to add more positive interactions with others in my environment?

3. What will I do with my colleagues to help them connect their daily efforts to the meaning it creates?

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From the NC SHRM Conference web page including links: Tom Rath is an author and researcher who studies the role of human behavior in business, health, and well-being. He has been described by business leaders and the media as one of the greatest thinkers and nonfiction writers of his generation. Tom has written six New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers over the past decade, starting with the #1 New York Times bestseller How Full Is Your Bucket? His book StrengthsFinder 2.0 was the top-selling book of 2013 and 2014.