Over the past 18 months, the widespread sexual harassment exposed by #MeToo has been widely covered and dissected in the media. But in practice, the hard work has barely begun, and the real solutions are far more complex. For HR professionals dealing with complaints and recalibrating work-place culture, there remains as many questions as answers.
A survey carried out by People Management Magazine revealed that, over the past six months:
- 17% of HR professionals have seen an increase in sexual harassment complaints
- 20% have fired or taken disciplinary action for harassment
- 18% have changed policies relating to harassment
- 16% have introduced new channels or resources for reporting harassment
Harassment in the workplace existed long before the #MeToo movement took hold, but this has brought new recognition to the issue.
Cases of harassment should not and can not be ignored if we wish to create a fair and inclusive workplace.
So how do you deal with this on a practical level?
While the dialogue may have inspired debate and left a greater number of people feeling empowered to share their stories, the value of #MeToo will only be reflected in the progress organisations make in changing their workplace for the better.
Take practical actions
- Ensure you have robust policies in place to deal with reports of harassment
- Would your managers be able to deal with complaints appropriately and sensitively? If this is not the case, put in place training so that they are equipped to do so
- Would your employees know who to approach, and how to raise an issue?
- If any accusation was made, would you be able to ensure that it was dealt with fairly and impartially?
Having the right policies and procedures is crucial, but you also need to make the right statements about culture
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission have reported that half of people who experience sexual harassment at work would fail to report it – do you have a culture where individuals feel able to report harassment?
- Would your employees feel confident that they will be taken seriously if they made a complaint?
- Examine what is appropriate and where boundaries could be blurred – highlight the types of behaviour that can make people uncomfortable. It’s not because some behaviours have been accepted that they are necessarily acceptable
- Do employees feel able to call out inappropriate behaviour? If so, why not?
- Be prepared for a backlash – driving behavioural change is not easy, and not a quick fix
To adequately deal with harassment, a shift in attitude is required. Challenging ingrained dynamics and senior leadership teams can be hugely challenging but bear in mind that by not tackling issues, you send the message to both the individual and the organisation that this behaviour is acceptable.
The most important thing is that people that come into your workplace feel safe, protected, and can flourish, and this should be at the heart of both your policies and your culture.
If you need support with any of the issues touched on in this post, contact us!
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