Over the last year, we have seen high profile examples of sexual harassment and sexual assault. We are disgusted by the stories of quid pro quo advances and predatory behavior on the vulnerable and naïve. Settlements amount to millions and for some there is belief that money adjudicates the matter. We justify bullying and sexual innuendo as locker room and water cooler banter.
And now, we see a “Me Too” movement not just from the famous but from our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. We see that the scars of assault, harassment and intimidation last long after the incident. From college dorms to date nights to the work place, harassment remains a real and existent problem.
Over the course of my career, I have witnessed, investigated and resolved matters of sexual harassment both overt and covert. Organizations have been both reticent and explicit in the resolution. The accused have both blatantly and surreptitiously harassed. They have knowingly and unknowingly understood the consequences of their behavior. Harassment is not prescriptive, it is the feelings created by the words, actions and intimidation of the harasser. It is “unwanted” behavior!
The question every organization should be asking now is, “How many of my employees are pondering their past and present “Me Too” situations?” It is an employer’s mandate to insure that everyone in the organization know what harassment is and know how to effectively report incidences. We all have both a legal as well as moral right to feel safe. Regularly, we are called to provide independent investigations of reported harassment. Regardless of individual circumstances, the findings always reveal organizational vulnerabilities regarding workplace norms and tolerated behaviors. While we are also called to proactively facilitate respectful workplace discussions and trainings, perhaps if we were called more often, we might be doing fewer investigations.
With the recent wake-up call provided to us by Hollywood and others, perhaps now is the time to stop ignoring this seemingly epidemic issue and assure that your employees understand what is acceptable and what is intolerable. This is not just about financial and legal liability. This is about mutual respect and acceptance.