4 Ways to Eliminate Sexual Harassment at Work
Most women have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives, and one in three women have been subjected to it at work. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” The harassment does not necessarily have to be of a sexual nature; it can include offensive remarks about someone’s gender, such as negative, generalized comments about women in general.
In order to make your company a safe, respectful environment for women to work, and to eliminate gender inequality, you need to have a plan to fight sexual harassment. Here are five ways you can actively combat these negative attitudes in your workplace.
1. Cover the Subject in Orientation
During on boarding and orientation for new employees is the first chance you get to share your company’s stance on many issues from dress codes to sexual harassment. Take this opportunity to share with them your expectations for upholding a fair and respectful workplace environment for everyone. This is a great time to share with them the full definition of sexual harassment and your clear HR systems through which they can report their observations and experiences.
The Society for Human Resource Management recommends having clear definitions of what constitutes sexual harassment (including examples of prohibited conduct), explaining how victims and observers of sexual harassment should respond and report, outlining how HR should confidentially handle the process, and expressing what disciplinary measures should be followed. By starting out with a clear set of ground rules, you will nip many potential instances in the bud.
2. Hold Annual Seminars
While orientation is a great way to start, after employees have been around for a while they may forget the rules and regulations your business detailed during their first week on the job. This can be combatted with annual seminars to address company issues from sales tactics and management styles to sexual harassment.
This is also a great opportunity to address the masculine culture and old gender norms that may exist in your company or industry, and move your employees in a more progressive, tolerant direction. Your company is best served when everyone feels safe and respected for their work, not their looks. Encourage a healthy environment by addressing any issues that may lead to harassment and inequality during annual meetings and seminars.
3. Lead By Example
As the leader of your business, the buck stops with you. If you witness any kind of harassment or unequal treatment of anyone in your company, you need to be a reporter and handle the situation. Research has shown that company cultures that show intolerance for sexual harassment are led by owners and managers who are openly committed to eliminating it from their organization. So show, don’t tell. Be the leader you are asking your employees to be by staying vigilant and quickly handling any incidents you witness first hand, and (obviously) don’t commit any yourself.
4. Encourage Incident Reporting
In addition to training employees on how to handle harassment if they have been subjected to it themselves, enforce bystander training to educate people on what to do if they witness harassment directed at others taking place. It is extremely uncomfortable to see someone else getting harassed, and if you are not sure if what you witnessed was indeed harassment, you may be reluctant to speak up.
Formal training and education that focuses on what sexual harassment is, what it looks like in real life, why help should always be given to those being attacked, how bystanders who do nothing will be held accountable for their lack of initiative, and how to properly intervene and report can empower your employees to be the watchdogs on the ground and help eliminate the problem. It is also important to stress in these training sessions that when men initiate the interventions, they are particularly successful and set an example for other men to stand up for their female colleagues. This is a key part in helping your company culture progress away from the masculine norms that see sexual harassment as acceptable behavior.
Your company benefits greatly from happy, respected workers who are free from harassment and discrimination of all kinds, but it is extremely important that you have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Negative attitudes towards women and unwanted advances by any sex are not acceptable anywhere, but should certainly not be in your company. By combatting this problem, you are not only supporting those who have been previous victims but ensuring that everyone gets a safe, fair place to work where their production and merit, not looks or gender, is rewarded.
Abby Yetter is the CEO and Chief Consultant of Bright Ideas Small Business Solutions, LLC. She is a driven, enthusiastic businesswoman, with a talent for organizing the chaotic, and branding the unfamed. Abby strives to use her creativity, and experience, to solve the many problems of small businesses. With a background based in customer service management, social media, technological organization, sales, marketing, and customer experience specialties, she enjoys taking everyday complications, and finding the newest, most productive ways to execute the tasks.All stories by: Abby Yetter