Now that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has stepped down--due largely to his infantile encouragement of sexual harassment--this is a perfect time to lay down the rules for CEOs who'd rather not follow suit.

I asked Jay Starkman, CEO of the HR compliance firm Engage PEO (#127 on the Inc. 500's list) for his suggestions. He sent seven, which I expanded and elaborated upon (a bit) to create 15 rules.

The first nine are based primarily on what Starkman sent me; the final six are my own observations based on a couple of decades of jackass-watching in the workplace.

1. Don't ignore a compliant or allegation.

This is true even if the target of the complaint is your best performing employee and especially if the target is you.

2. Don't try to sweep it under the rug.

Rumors that sexual harassment has been tolerated creates an environment in which employees see the behavior as acceptable.

3. Don't automatically defend the accused.

Unless you have magical mind-reading powers, never say something stupid like "I've known the accused for a long time and they would not do that."

4. Don't automatically believe the accuser.

When there's an allegation, launch an impartial investigation to uncover the truth. Trust that the investigation will exonerate the accused should the accusation be false.

5. Don't tolerate "a little harmless fun."

Immediately squelch any sexual jokes, off-color comments, and physical contact of a sexual nature lest they make your corporate culture tolerant of sexual harassment.

6. Don't treat the training lightly.

If you don't attend training on sexual harassment yourself (or subtly pooh-pooh it), you're sending a message that sexual harassment is a fake problem.

7. Don't "let it all hang out" off-campus.

If employees are around (like at a conference), don't participate in sexually-based behavior, including laughing at sexually charged jokes or comments. Be a role model.

8. Don't expect others to be "good sports."

While you may think being "PC" isn't necessary, you're putting your company at risk if you tolerate any inappropriate or sexually based behavior

9. Don't think your company is immune.

Just as hate speech is a manifestation of institutional racism, sexual harassment is a manifestation of cultural sexism. It can crop up anywhere.

Well, that's the expert advice. However, there are six behaviors I have personally witnessed that, IMHO, create a climate where sexual harassment becomes more likely:

10. Don't hit on your employees.

A CEO once told me that "being CEO is the world's best aphrodisiac." Maybe so, but exploiting that power differential marks you as a predator and puts your company at risk.

11. Don't hire spokesmodels for trade shows.

Staffing your booth with eye-candy sends exactly the wrong message. Anyway, if your products are too dull to attract honest attention, you're wasting money going to the show.

12. Don't run "sex sells" commercials.

When employees see ads like this (Godaddy.com) and this (Carl's Jr.) and this (American Apparel), they naturally conclude that it's corporate policy to treat women as sex objects.

13. Don't take hallway conversations into the men's room.

I once saw a group of managers, one of whom was a woman, continue a discussion as they went into the men's room, leaving her outside. Jerks.

14. Don't draw Venn diagrams of who's slept with whom.

When herpes first became an issue, one engineer where I worked drew a huge diagram on his white-board to figure out who'd been exposed.

15. Don't interrupt women in your meetings.

Once you're "woke" to this, you see it everywhere. Men constantly interrupt women at work, creating a climate of disrespect that can easily slip into harassment.

Published on: Jun 21, 2017
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