Harvey Weinstein. Roger Ailes. Kevin Spacey. Roy Moore. Al Franken. Charlie Rose. Steve Jurvetson. John Lasseter. Matt Lauer.  Even Batman admitted guilt but seemed to escape The New York Times' growing list of the accused.

According to a 2016 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as many as 85 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. In total, the EEOC received 162,872 harassment allegations between 2010 and 2015.

In the tech and startup space, things remain grim. We still have Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer, seared in our collective memories after her published account described how she had been propositioned for sex by her manager.

Status or position is no safe ground either. As reported on Inc., seventy-eight percent of women startup founders say they have been harassed or know someone who was. Of all founders, half said they'd been sexually harassed in the workplace or knew someone who was. 

Stopping the Madness

What are we missing here to make this crisis end? I posit that the first step is not an easy one, but a necessity: Placing an unrelenting, all hands-on-deck focus on prevention and shifting our mindset around workplace values and gender bias. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling. 

1. Promote more women into leadership positions.

The fast-track to solving this issue is to reverse the toxic values of misogynistic work cultures still prevalent today. Sexism is a symptom of male white privilege residing in high perches that prevent women from shattering the glass ceiling.

In this eye-opening Harvard Business Review piece, the authors reveal that harassment is more common in workplaces where men hold most managerial jobs. "We already know how to reduce sexual harassment at work, and the answer is actually pretty simple: Hire and promote more women," write the authors.

According to a study conducted by Baloonr, about 35 percent of respondents said the best way to addressing the issue in the startup tech worldis to put more women in leadership roles. The study was conducted among 90 female venture capitalists and founders who've raised funding for their startups.

2. Make sexual harassment training mandatory for every leader.

Lets acknowledge that, in most cases, employers have mandatory training policies in place more to protect themselves in a legal defense against liability for hostile work environments than to protect their own employees from predators. 

To counter this, sexual harassment training must be mandatory for managers and top-level leaders. This shows employees that leaders are willing to participate because it conveys the seriousness with which they take the topic and the subject matter.

Eden King, an associate professor at Rice University, has done extensive research on effective harassment training. She underlines the fact that people in power are not immune from disciplinary action if they fail to behave respectfully toward colleagues.

King concluded that face-to-face training that lasts more than four hours and includes active participation with a supervisor is most effective.

3. Create a culture of intervention.

While rare for most organizations, encouraging employees and even putting pressure on them to report harassment is key for intervention. 

This means leaders have to step up and take an active role in making sure the culture is safe. "If the leaders themselves act as allies, if they engage in behaviors that call attention to inappropriate behavior ... that can create a norm that that's what we do in our organization," King tells the BBC.

"It's about the climate," she said. "When employees perceived that their company was ethical, their knowledge improved and their attitudes changed as a result of the harassment prevention training... they take it seriously because they think that the organization is taking it seriously." 

EEOC commissioner Chai Feldblum, who co-authored a review of harassment in the workplace in 2016, tells Business Insider that companies should first spell out what behaviors will not be tolerated at work. Then they should describe in very simple terms how employees can report unwelcome behavior. And finally, Feldblum says perception is key--"people feel free to come forward to report inappropriate advances if they know complaints are taken seriously, investigated, and lead to action."

4. Return to values.

Both men and women of good conscience are fearlessly acknowledging the elephant in the room -- the disturbing, age-old trend of men in power taking advantage of their status to prey on women (and other men) working below them.

Therefore, the fight is just as much about deconstructing false values embedded in toxic systemic thinking, and the thinking of sick minds. In the BBC article, Eden King exposes a root cause of sexual harassment: "A belief that women are inferior to men, the belief that men should have power over women," and, she adds, a belief that "men should be aggressors and women should be gatekeepers." The process of shifting mindsets doesn't start in training rooms. King says it should begin in the earliest days of childhood education and development.

In a New Yorker report, Arianna Huffington, the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, calls on companies to reassess their values: "This includes rejecting the cult of the top performer, which tolerates otherwise unacceptable behavior, and instead building a culture that functions as the company's immune system: surfacing cases of abuse and identifying toxic elements as fast as possible, and then quickly rejecting them."

Bottom line: Leadership must establish core values that promote diversity and inclusion, and set a standard for what's acceptable -- and unacceptable -- behavior.

5. Creating a culture of openness.

According to the "National Crime Victimization Survey" only one in three sexual assaults are reported. And the most common reason for not reporting the crime is fear of retaliation. Beyond training, leaders should shoulder the responsibility to help foster a work environment where victims feel like they can come forward.

That means setting the tone at all managerial levels, and especially at the top, that sexual harassment is not tolerated, period. Managers must ensure victims that they have an open-door policy, that they care about their employees and want to know what's going on with the team, and that they are willing and committed to talking about it if it happens, quickly and openly.

6. Fight against gender bias on all fronts.

We have a gender gap when it comes to pay. It is shrinking, but it is still there. Last year, it widened, according to a March Institute for Women's Policy Research analysis, and women are coming out swinging. Many tech companies find themselves in messy class-action gender-discrimination suits, including Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and Uber, according to The New Yorker

At Google, an audit of their pay practices by the Department of Labor found "systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce," showing, one official has said, six to seven standard deviations between pay for men and women in nearly every job category. 

On top of the problem of unfair pay for women, a Harvard study revealed that, when it comes to annual performance reviews, women were 1.4 times more likely to receive critical subjective feedback, not positive feedback or critical objective feedback, and that traits that were considered negative in women were often interpreted as positive in men.

First and foremost, to counter gender bias, I refer back to establishing a culture of openness. This means openly discussing diversity, discrimination and gender bias as a team in every department. It means getting people comfortable talking about the uncomfortable.

Then go further by eliminating bias with hiring and promotion practices that have clear and objective evaluation criteria; establishing guidelines where salaries between genders are frequently reviewed for parity; and ensuring that project teams assigned have a diverse group of people represented.

Finally, every manager at every level should be responsible for promoting a culture of meritocracy, where great ideas are encouraged to come from all voices, male and female alike.

Published on: Dec 11, 2017
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