In this era of social media, and the sheer power of all manner of media, it is hardly surprising that sexual harassment has become a big issue, created the #metoo movement, numerous resignations, and an ongoing engagement depressant for companies that are unaware of the scourge of sexual harassment within their companies.
On various HR and company sites, for many years, some of us have written about the ineffective routine once a year sexual harassment training. It was ineffective then, and it is just as ineffective now. In many organizations, training is a mere perfunctory action for a living and evolving issue. The once a year or occasional training merely created an opportunity for lawyers to make money, from the inevitable claims that arose from such a limited and worthless training strategy. Training should change things. the structure of most sexual harassment training is full of laws. The trainings on sexual harassment are usually punitive, and based on law, warnings and outcomes of engaging in improper conduct.
It is obvious that it did not, and does not work as it should…
You cannot “train” employees once a year with warnings and laws, and expect that it takes care of all sexual harassment questions or issues.
In our society sex is pounded at us in everything (movies, online, magazines etc,) and in every imaginable way and women and men are brazenly objectified sexually, it is not enough to scream consequences of being improper at work. Incredible as it may seem, over years of research, and countless investigations, we have found that some people really DO NOT understand the blurred lines of normal and unacceptable conduct. Thus, the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable conduct should be provided in the same dynamic steps, without the punitive and law focused one shot type training alone.
I was at a pharmacy a while back, and a female attendant was searching for more bottles of distilled water for our rowing team. The manager, who was friendly at first, started making every improper sexually harassing comment imaginable to her. He was laughing loudly at his imagined jokes, and she laughed uncomfortably along with him. Since there were six of us present, he obviously did not think he was doing anything wrong.
I later spoke with him, and he was genuinely perplexed that his remarks about watching her “fun bags jiggle” were remotely improper.
Fast forward one year later. Our organization was hired to create a strategy for sexual harassment training for this pharmacy. Our training strategy was created after a needs assessment, a review of the continued issues that occurred within similar companies etc. It worked.
This occurred many years ago. This our large client, to date, has not experienced any of the problems that other similar organizations have experienced at this time in the #Metoo era. As many people are being terminated, and investigated for all manner of sexual harassment issues, they heave a sigh of relief. They are functioning without the public relations nightmare of being exposed as a payout machine, and perceived “enabler” of sexual harassing conduct. Their proactive and scientific approach to sexual harassment management and eradication has paid off.
There is an ongoing knee jerk reaction by companies that do not want to be part of the sexual harassment media blitz. They are terrified of the public relations problem such media exposure could create, and are getting folks to sign NDA’s up to the sky and back.
In addition, as part of the reactivity and knee jerk response, people are being fired, or forced to resign without due process of law. Fundamentally, however, the foundational problems of sexual harassment are not being properly addressed for the long term. “Gagging” the problem of sexual harassment only results in a hostile environment, sexual improprieties, and disengaged staff. It is not a good solution to throw investigations and NDA’s at everything.
Sexual harassment is typically not an issue of unbridled sexual desire by men or women. It is an issue of power. Everyone who has worked as an executive within in-house HR, knows that the C-suite executives set the tone at the top, and HR starts from the base with training and oversight.
There have been good outcomes from the interest in sexual harassment problems which have been ignored for so long. But the worst outcome is the “nothing lasting” part. Nothing is in place for long term solutions for this issue in many companies.
The only great news from this sexual harassment chaos, is that there are professionals and organization that are well versed in creating effective strategies that prevent, recognize and eliminate sexual harassment. Many executives are well aware of the problem of sexual harassment in many companies, but some justify its prevalence or their lack of knowledge about its depth, by explaining that they cannot be everywhere at the same time.
Use the dynamic solutions from professionals and organizations to create a robust solution to the problem of sexual harassment. It starts by understanding that although cases are not being reported to HR, it does not mean that an organization does not have a sexual harassment problem which needs solutions now. It is also bears repeated that a strategy to end sexual harassment is required to contain, manage and end it.
I wish you well.
By Sonia Johnson Esquire