The past four years have rightfully challenged everyone to take serious stock of their workplace culture, honestly assessing respect and gender parity, or the lack thereof. From Gretchen Carlson’s 2016 sexual harassment bombshell dropped on Roger Ailes of Fox News, to the explosive revelations in 2017 of decades of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein, followed by #MeToo and #TimesUp, and a myriad of high profile industries exposing entrenched harassment-laden cultures – one can hardly ignore the call to action.
As these bombshells and battle cries continue to gain momentum, women in the workplace have found their voices to demand equal ownership of company culture. A growing number of businesses are dutifully paying diligence to topics like sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, and bias.
But what now? How is your company culture progressing?
If your answer is, “it’s better,” then let’s advance to the more important question for the decade: Is better good enough? Perhaps the most egregious offenders and offenses in the workplace have been felled, but there’s a long battle to be waged for genuine respect and equality. Many claim that round one has hardly begun.
Recently I facilitated a Harassment-free Workplace training for employees of a tech company; one of the co-owners openly challenged the guideline regarding men initiating physical contact with women. “I started this company and I want to continue to hug the women I’ve become friendly with over the years.” My counter-challenge: “Just because women participate in those hugs, are you sure they actually welcome them? The employment fate of those women lies in your hands. Why can’t you take a mere half-step back and cordially extend your arm for a warm handshake?” That’s when the youngest manager spoke up; bravely, he divulged how difficult it is for him to navigate a culture where senior male managers routinely greet females with a hug. Such familiarity creates a dilemma for him. Much closer in age to the average female in the company, a hug from him sets off an entirely different alarm.
Regardless of where you stand in this particular discussion, the subject of hugging is only one of an endless list of workplace behaviors that need to be addressed and equalized. Consider suggestive jokes, unwelcome comments, leering, incessant innuendos, sex-based biases based on innumerable prejudices – appearance, intelligence, talents, performance abilities – the layers are many, subtle, and substantive.
Maybe your organization has already offered the obligatory Harassment-free Workplace training. Perhaps you’ve even taken to posting your anti-harassment policy in a high-traffic area of the office. If so, well done! If not, when will you?
Now, it’s time to move on to the tougher stuff – the subtle habits of company culture that residually persist from centuries of inappropriate sex-based attitudes and misbehavior. Rolling up the corporate sleeves and digging into the messy work of eradicating all sex-based biases is indicative of an enlightened and emotionally intelligent organization. This means allotting time, energy, budget, and expertise toward the progress of fair and respectful behavior among men and women on every level.
Consider nine of the most effective ways to break free of sex-based harassment and bias in the workplace:
- Enforce a comprehensive zero-tolerance harassment-free workplace policy.
- Post the policy in high-traffic public areas.
- Conduct annual harassment-free workplace training for all employees.
- Require that management lead by example.
- Regularly survey employees regarding sex-based harassment and a toxic environment.
- Practice an open-door policy. All employees should know that they can bring issues to management, that their concerns will be taken seriously, and that appropriate action will be taken.
- Openly discuss and regularly communicate about the topics of sex-based biases and harassment.
- Hold lunch-and-learn discussions for all employees on how to raise the emotional intelligence of your work community by growing in respectful attitudes and behaviors.
- Address unacceptable behaviors immediately, according to stated policies.
Understand that you don’t have to do this alone. A little professional advice can go a long way in helping you develop the enlightened workplace culture you seek. Contact us at Purple Ink. We’re committed to promoting a better workplace.
Denise Roney McGonigal is a Human Resources Trainer and Collaborator for Purple Ink, LLC.