Sexual harassment at work – keeping staff and organisations safe

31 October 2017

Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood. Various figures in Parliament. The recent allegations of sexual harassment in major UK and US institutions have shone a searing light on the often woeful response of many of those in power when people are brave enough to raise a complaint.

 

Tackling sexual harassment in the workplace

As diversity professionals, I would divide the work we do into two categories:

  • Proactive work to change the outcomes for under-represented groups (existing and prospective staff, customers, service users, etc.)
  • Keeping organisations and their employees safe.

The first of these might mean developing a more inclusive recruitment process. Or increasing awareness of and taking action on unconscious bias. Or running positive action initiatives, or setting up support networks. And all those other things we can do to build more inclusive cultures.

With the latter, tackling sexual harassment at an organisational level is a key component in keeping everyone in our workplaces safe. This is true whatever the business, whatever the sector.

First, a metaphor. My nephew, when he was seven, asked me what I did. I described some of my work to him. In doing so, I thought the easiest aspect for him to grasp would be reasonable adjustments.

So I told him about how I helped people get to work each day. “Ah,” he said, “you’re a lollipop lady.” I think it’s a great image for our work. We help people get to their destination safely. And we make sure that preventable dangers are managed through the benign use of authority, role clarity and consistent signposting or messaging.

 

Responding to sexual harassment – the importance of workplace policy

One of our main tools in preventing or responding to sexual harassment at work is our policies: Diversity and Inclusion, Equal Opportunities, Bullying and Harassment, and so on. These policies need to be clear as crystal in setting out the organisation’s values and its requirements under the Equality Act 2010. And although policies can’t cover every aspect of unwanted behaviour, they need to make clear that sexual harassment is gross misconduct.

Right now, everyone working in diversity should be checking their policies. We need to ensure our policies say the right things, and that there is a formal procedure in place should anyone have a complaint. And we need to give reassurances that any procedure is properly followed through.

A policy refresh is also a good moment to communicate it. Make sure everyone in your workforce know what’s in place, and the culture you expect from them every day. This, of course, may need to be reinforced by management training and as part of induction.

So, going back to the lollipop lady metaphor, now is the time to hold up that big sign that shows everyone that your organisation is safe, thoughtful and takes care of its people.

And that big sign is your policy.

 

Responding to Sexual Harassment at Work