April 5, 2018

Fighting Harassment and Improving Inclusion in the Workplace

By CEO Jim Annis

Why do the female inspired #MeToo and its male led counterpart #AskMoreOfHim movements keep making headlines? It is not big brazen things in the news that shock today. Those (sickly) are expected. Instead, they are the micro incidences that have chipped away at the patience level of the people who have had negative experiences. The prevalence and acceptance of harassment and lack of uniformity has insidiously eaten away at people’s confidence, patience and dignity like a flesh-eating disease. We cannot simply run to the urgent care and get “antibiotics” to treat this. Awareness and education play a part in helping to manage the risk of this “illness” spreading any further.

There will always be issues because people are fallible. People rise to power and sometimes with power comes trouble, like a shadow. Whether it be a government leader, a sports hero, movie star or a rock legend. It appears that to get to that level of success it takes a certain level of narcissism. You put yourself above others (or others put you above others). People in that position may have trouble “listening” and receiving and reacting constructively to feedback. Conditioning needs to happen by changing the voice and reaction of the receiving end.

To think this frenzy of headlines will go on for twenty years is hard to stomach. What will change is the response to it. I can anticipate a more productive scene. It reminds me of the story of The Pandora, which is an attempt to explain why there is evil in the world. I anticipate something good will come of these movements because even at the bottom of Pandora’s box, after the evils (including greed, envy, hatred, pain, disease, hunger, poverty, war, and death) escaped, at the bottom of the box is tiny, shining hope. In this case my interpretation of hope in relation to this continuing news topic is not an expectation, but as an attitude that leads us to act rather than despair.

What are the next steps?

  • When employers cultivate an environment of inclusion, respect and professionalism it diminishes the opportunity for harassment. Recognize you are not immune as a human being to either being the victim or the accused.
  • Empower your managers to recognize issues before they blow up. Review policies, conduct trainings, and have internal discussion “safe” spaces or non-threatening environments so that workers feel supported by leadership. Ideas include anonymous suggestion boxes, info@emails and a formal hotline or other confidential communication tool like a chat group. When someone does tell you to keep something confidential, then ensure that happens as long as it meets compliance aspects and the law.
  • Harassment creates a hostile work environment. Something as seemingly innocent as nick names, like “Sunshine,” are condescending, cause the person who uttered those words to lose credibility and the receiver resentment. When the micro-issues happen – call them out immediately. A simple, “Hey – let’s just stick to people’s first name not give pet names,” should do the trick.
  • Conduct a salary review in which you compare salaries across races and genders and tenure in comparison to the job responsibilities. Report your findings. If you need to make adjustments, then do so openly and with immediate action.

Dare I say that awareness starts at home? What better way to train employees of the future on appropriate behavior while they are still young. There is no substitute for modeling the way in terms of being respectful to each other, men, women and children. Your children will be influenced by other adults they interact with (school teachers, sports coaches, part-time employers, friends' parents). Be sure your messages – and expectations – are clear so that when presented with inappropriate behavior, their resolve is strong. The same can be applied at work too. Your role is to establish and support a culture of constant diligence of making it your priority versus hiding these issues away in a policy until you hear a complaint or pretending to be ignorant.

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