Over the past few months, our collective news and Twitter feeds have started to chip away at the tip of an ugly iceberg. Allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct by powerful figures in the entertainment industry, such as Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly, have shocked the nation into a dialogue that is causing professionals in every industry to reevaluate their anti-harassment policies. While it’s nothing short of a social tragedy that we as a professional community are only now making the effort to revise the way we think about workplace harassment, the proverbial iron is hot. Let’s strike it.
On their own, the allegations that have been levied against these individuals are alarming. As the controversies surrounding Weinstein and O’Reilly have evolved, however, we’re starting to learn that the companies who employed these men knew about the allegations and did nothing. Only when these scandals reached critical mass did we see The Weinstein Company and Fox News cut ties with the accused. As their heavy hitters were covering the legal costs of these incidents out of their own pockets, the companies saw no need to intervene.
Now that these scandals have set social media ablaze, the associated companies are not the only ones starting to buckle under the sheer volume and magnitude of the #MeToo movement. Other reports of sexual misconduct and harassment have surfaced around the world, and companies are wasting no time taking action to distance themselves from the sources, from canceling television shows and appearances to shelving entire movie projects. Silicon Valley venture capitalists and CEOs, too, have recently come under fire for the toxic culture of harassment in the tech industry.
Changing the Culture
Despite these high-profile incidents of harassment, the truth is that our treatment of workplace harassment has often been an afterthought, a box that needs to be checked off to help protect a company’s legal interests. In light of the deluge of workplace misconduct accusations, the way companies approach their anti-harassment compliance policies and relevant training has come under scrutiny. The majority of workplace training dedicated to preventing sexual harassment and misconduct hinges on the concept that harassment is bad for purely legal reasons. On the contrary, it is by no means the sole reason why harassment has no place in the workplace.
Before we reconsider our approach to anti-harassment training, we need to do a little housekeeping as professionals. First and foremost, we need to systematically uproot the existing professional and social culture that allows predators in positions of authority carte blanche. Anti-harassment policies need to be an extension of a workplace culture that prioritizes the physical and emotional well-being of its employees, and it has to start at the top. Only after such a culture has been established can a company start to redefine the way it teaches this culture to its employees.
Training Needs to Evolve
A report published by The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016 outlined several issues and potential solutions that a task force uncovered during a study on workplace harassment. Among the entrenched, systemic conditions that have allowed a culture of workplace harassment to thrive, the report stated that corporate anti-harassment training over the past 30 years has “not worked as a prevention tool,” and “it must be part of a holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top.”
Among the report’s suggested solutions to this problem is the push toward adopting more innovative training solutions and strategies to help employees embrace a company’s culture of positivity and safety. The report states that “training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and to different cohorts of employees.”
A Good Place to Start
Companies must focus on training programs that connect with their learners first as individuals, then as a professional community. The EEOC report suggests that anti-harassment training should adopt a scenario-based format so learners can understand the pain that workplace harassment can cause. For example, companies could develop solutions that expand scenarios into narrative structures designed to build sympathy with victims and promote a culture of advocacy among all learners.
Take a fresh look at how you encourage a culture that does not tolerate or accept workplace harassment. Having built a professional culture that allowed one of its co-founders to sexually exploit others in the film industry, The Weinstein Company now finds itself in shambles. Its board members are resigning, it’s facing an expensive internal investigation, and the first post-scandal film that the studio released opened with a paltry gross of $742 across 10 theaters. With more reports surfacing across a wide range of industries, it’s looking more and more likely that The Weinstein Company won’t be the only casualty of this problem.
Once companies come to the inevitable realization that the workplace culture they create will ultimately define their financial success, the need for customized and engaging training solutions will be greater than it has ever been. With myriad innovations in the way we approach corporate training at our disposal, it’s time to work together to usher in a new era of positive workplace culture. The tools are all there; it’s high time to evaporate the hidden iceberg of sexual misconduct in the workplace.
|We have the opportunity to go beyond what is comfortable and move toward what is imperative to the health of our organizations. Here are some recommendations for developing an anti-harassment culture and training:
1. Look at the culture within your organization. How does it manage authority and power and address what is permissible and what is not?
2. Focus part of your training and awareness budget on regularly scheduled engagements around stories and contexts that are real and seen daily by your team members. More frequent training is the best foot forward, as long as it’s relevant to your organization.
3. Use technology to record stakeholders defining the scenarios that speak truth to your audience. Motivational speakers and well-done but generic content will not take the place of your leaders, managers and employees taking part in designing your program. You lose credibility by making this topic a “checkmark” issue.