Does one bad apple spoil the whole bunch? Not necessarily. Sometimes, it's all the other apples that tolerate the one bad apple. Notable cases of sexual harassment from film producer Harvey Weinstein to former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes have brought much needed attention to a taboo topic.
From a business perspective, these bad apples like Weinstein and Ailes are only part of a much larger problem: the culture that allows harassment to go unchecked. Something in these organizations' cultures allowed this behavior.
These men abused their power for decades. A growing number of incredibly brave women have come forward and shared their very personal stories in hopes that justice will be served and that others won't face similar experiences.
Plenty of people knew about the sexual harassment, but chose to ignore it. I'm talking about all those who weren't direct victims, but knew these bad things were happening, and tolerated this situation over years through inaction. These folks are the ones that rot the entire barrel.
As a business owner, you should do everything in your power to stop bad apples at the door. Never let them into your company.
But bad apples sometimes happen. They just do. Always have, always will.
The key is to maintain a culture that has zero tolerance for the behavior of bad apples. Shrugging off inappropriate behavior as "boys will be boys" or "it's not a big deal" creates a culture that accepts sexual harassment.
Take these steps to protect your employees and ensure your business doesn't get brought to its knees by a bad apple:
1. Define your culture.
Define "corporate culture" as a line. Above the line are the behaviors you and your people will tolerate and even advocate for. Below the line are the behaviors you and your people simply will not tolerate ever.
Below the line, write 6-12 behaviors that have absolutely no place in the business.
Don't allow a default culture that permits inexcusable behaviors. Be intentional about what you expect from all employees regardless of their position in the company.
2. Make your company's stance known.
Your gender shouldn't matter. Men account for roughly 17-20 percent of victims, according to a Psychology Today study. Make it clear that as employees, everyone is required to take an active stand any time they observe behaviors below the line. And make clear exactly where they can go and who they can talk to when they observe behaviors below the line.
Make sure your human resources department receives proper training on what to do if someone approaches them about sexual harassment and how to talk to potential victims of sexual harassment.
3. Outline steps for employees.
Outline steps for employees to take if they feel they are being sexually harassed. This will help employees feel supported and empowered.
Advise them to document everything and to talk to a trusted co-worker about their experiences. Unfortunately, sexual harassment often comes down to he said/she said, so documenting the harassment and having a possible witness is advisable.
Make sure all your employees, suppliers, and customers know that you are doing everything you can to weed out bad apples at the door. It's entirely possible for some to sneak in, so make sure everybody knows that standing for your culture and being intolerant of bad behavior is what is expected. By all.