It started with one woman’s willingness to speak out about an incident of sexual assault by a colleague. Next several media celebrities discovered that harassment and assault can cut short even a storied career. Now more and more people, mostly women but not all, some from our own neighborhoods and families, are speaking up about their own similar incidents and situations that they kept locked away for a long time. The number is large enough to be shocking. Their experiences aren’t all about bosses, but we want to talk about harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.
Why has it been so hard for victims to bring assault behavior out, to tell someone? Because in these instances the assault and/or harassment was done by authority figures. The injured parties feared making waves because the abuser had the potential to make a career – or break it if one didn’t play along. The prevailing attitude “It’s just the way things are,” justified the next, and the next occurrence after that.
Are you, as a leader in your business, certain that this isn’t happening in your workplace?
Leadership behavior is a matter of company culture. People do what they think is acceptable and avoid doing what they know will get them into trouble. If your business has stated core values, check to see how they should impact the treatment of fellow team members. Don’t assume that your leaders and your team have connected the dots on what is and is not appropriate behavior. Talk about the behaviors that exemplify your company’s values.
We can’t overlook the fact that sometimes intention and impact are very different. Joe or Sam (leaders or peers) may be saying and doing things that cause others on your team to feel uncomfortable or even afraid, but Joe and Sam may have no clue that they are upsetting someone. In other words, their intentions might be completely harmless. But that doesn’t erase the negative impact that their words or behavior might have on someone else. This is different from sexual assault in that it does not involve inappropriate touching, but if it creates a hostile work environment you could wind up with unnecessary turnover or even a costly lawsuit.
If you become aware of behavior that could be considered harassing in nature, or of actual assault, it is incumbent upon you to handle it swiftly. If you do not do so, your staff might get the impression that it is OK behavior in your eyes.
It makes good sense to make sure that everyone in your company knows what behavior is in bounds and what is out of bounds to prevent a harassment or assault incident. Alternative HR can help you to do some training on appropriate workplace behavior, and on reporting processes in the case that a problem does occur.
Remember, every member of your team is someone’s precious child. Let’s create the conditions where each person feels safe and valued. That is good for them – and it is good for business too.