From big league entertainment personalities like O'Reilly, Lauer and Hoffman to Hollywood moguls and politicians like Weinstein, Franken and Roy Moore, purported sexual misconduct grabbed the headlines through much of last year.
Besides establishing a scandalous cloud that appears to stretch from coast-to-coast, these stories shined the brightest of spotlights on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. It made many wonder if we might well be on the cusp of fundamental change in the way men and women interact with one another at work. If so, 2018 may be the Year of the Woman.
But, much must change before that can happen. Here are some thoughts about what we have to do as leaders to end sexual harassment in the workplace:
Shift the Power Dynamics: Position power sits as a root cause of much of the sexual harassment that we have been reading and hearing about of late. An intern is harassed by her boss, an aspiring actress by a movie producer etc.
A person that is inclined to harass a subordinate because of their position power (i.e., sleep with me, and you'll get the job) goes away in flatter, team-based workplaces because the power structures are less prominent and hiring and promotion decisions are spread across a team of people, rather than a single, all powerful decision-maker.
Engage Men in the Process of Change: This may be easier said than done, but, I'm hopeful! I think that there are enough men, like myself, who find these stories of the mistreatment of women repulsive and are willing to do whatever it takes to stop it. Of course, the real work is in identifying and instituting the steps needed to design a culture where harassment is no longer stomached.
Create Tougher Policies: Clearly, we can't expect stiffer workplace policies to provide the entire solution to our sexual harassment problems. However, they can be an important foundation for instating the cultural changes that need to be made. And these policies have to cut both ways. There must be consequences for both perpetrators and those that falsely accuse.
Provide Better Training: There's a difference between overhearing an off-color joke and the commission of an unwanted sexual advance. Helping people to understand what constitutes sexual harassment and teaching them techniques for managing those situations (and escalating them, as well), if they should emerge in the workplace can help establish a safer, more agreeable workplace.
Stop Tolerating It. Leadership is not about what you say; it's about what you tolerate. If you tolerate harassment, of any kind, in the workplace then you probably have a company culture that unwittingly promotes sexual harassment. I've seen clients that refuse to discipline, and or, terminate repeat offenders because they believed that the perpetrators were so talented in what they did that they couldn't be replaced. If that's how you operate as a leader, you'll eventually get what's coming to you.
To close, I'm not sure that 2018 will be the Year of the Women. I hope so. But, it seems to me that some men harass women because they're the type of person that seeks to take advantage of others whenever they can. I'm not sure that this will change much regardless of the coverage that the topic in the media. That said, I do think that there are some things that we can do to make our places of employment better places to work. I hope that these ideas will help you make your workplace better. Reach out if you'd like more information about how I can help you to create a company culture that everyone can respect and celebrate.