Last week Americans were glued to their television sets watching the confirmation hearings. It was a made for daytime television drama, however, it was real, not a reality show and definitely not a soap opera. At the core of the alleged sexual assault, your organization may find that it is beneficial to keep the politics of the hearing out of your workplace to ensure an engaged and productive workforce. However, failing to consider the hearings and the impact of the hearings on your employees may have an immediate and long-term impact on your business.
While the hearings are extremely political, it is also gender-focused, creating a divide in your organization in views about sexual harassment and the treatment of women. I don’t want to debate who did what to whom, I would like us to consider the effects of what the hearing is having on both men and women in the workplace.
For women, sexual assault and harassment is a real concern. You must put in place policies that will allow women to bring forward their concerns regarding sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. You must ensure that we create a psychologically safe environment where women feel comfortable about coming forward with their concerns.
For example, a female employee who worked in the construction field, all-male environment, as an electrician was assaulted by a male co-worker on the job. The co-worker continuously made advances to take her out on dates, for them to get together, which she continuously declined.
This occurred over a period of months.
One day the co-worker became so brazen and upset with the employee's continuous declining of his offers that he became aggressive and assaulted her on the job. He grabbed her and pulled her close in a bear hug with his body touching hers. She had to fight her way out of the position and was traumatized. She never told HR about what happened. She was too afraid to go back to work. After taking some time away from the job she eventually quit and became so afraid of working in construction that she never stepped foot on another job site again. She gave up her electrician career entirely.
The additional impact of the confirmation hearing on your workplace that you should consider as HR leaders are the impact it has on men. In many organizations, the senior leadership team is comprised of men. For women to accelerate their careers they will need to work with and gain sponsorship from men. However, with all that has been occurring with sexual assault and the me-too movement, you will find that some men may shy away from working closely with women, especially if there isn’t another person around to witness what is occurring.
While I strongly believe in the rights of women and sexual assault victims, I do believe that in the long term, we could face a decline in advocacy and sponsorship with our male counterparts. We must take proactive actions to engage and support men as our allies. Communicate to men that they have our support and that they are valued partners in the development of future leaders in the organization. Find a way to create trust amongst the sexes and continue to operate as one organization.
How to move forward and repair the organization?
Communicate your sexual harassment policy so that all employees are aware of what your policies are and ensure that employees know that their concerns will be considered and investigated.
In addition, make sure that employees understand that all complaints will be confidential and that bringing forward complaints will not result in retaliation. Many individuals who were assaulted and failed to bring forward a complaint felt that the organization would not do anything about their complaint and feared being fired or harassed further if they told anyone.
We can’t solve the problem of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace with only women. We need men to be included in the discussion and identification of a solution. In addition to your organization's diversity and inclusion training, develop training to help men in your organization understand their roles as ally’s. “[T]each people in positions of privilege—namely white men—to change their behavior instead of expecting marginalized employees to change theirs.”
Hiring and Promotions
Establish a level playing field for hiring and promotions in your organizations. Change the bias that exists influencing how women are viewed for a leadership position and how men are viewed for a leadership position.
Historically, men in the workplace can advance easily in their career given their technical expertise. Women with no children advance in their career at a higher rate than women with children and family commitments. Review your process of hiring and promotions. Identifying any inconsistencies in hiring and promotion is a step in the right direction.
Our expectations of how men should behave and women should behave in the workplace is inequitable. Women are expected to be considerate, kind, and collegial, while men can be belligerent, indignant, and blunt. Women can't equally demonstrate the same behaviors as men without it resulting in some type of punitive action.
Hold both women and men equally accountable for demonstrating values that are valued by your organization equally. Communicate those values to your existing employees and ensure that your employer branding shares your values with future candidates.
Don't allow sexual assault and harassment to divide your organization and impact the performance of your business. Implement these strategies to create a cohesive organization and align employees.
Cohen, L. (2016, October). Sexual Harassment Survivors Talk About the Aftermath of Going Public. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/sexual-harrassment-victims-job-aftermath/
Nelson, A. (2018, September). The Humanization of Kavanaugh and The Undoing Of American Women. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/amynelson1/2018/09/17/the-humanization-of-kavanaugh-and-the-undoing-of-american-women/#433a9fe91fbf