Sexual Harassment. How to protect your company and not be the next news flash.
We are all asking ourselves – who is next? It seems like every broadcast news report, every newspaper, every magazine, blog, and editorial is weighing in on the next high profile sex scandal. Some have it right, some have it not-so-right, and some are, frankly, clueless. But one thing they are universally wrong about is in certain expressions of empathy. I find myself having to remind those I counsel that, unless you have been a victim of sexual harassment, you DO NOT know how the victims feel. So many reporters mean well when they say they understand. But, they just don’t. Unless you, too, have been the victim and walked in their shoes, don’t say you understand. And, for sure, the judgment questions about the victims such as “why are they coming forward now”, “why didn’t they just say no”, why didn’t they ….” can signal something you don’t intend. Judging is the last thing we should be doing.
I hear you say, “But, Glenn, some of these alleged harassers didn’t even get their day in court. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced by mainstream and social media”. And, sadly, the people who love and supported them – spouses, kids, friends – are being hurt terribly by actions they probably didn’t even know about. There may be an innocent person who has been accused out there, but so far the track record on that score is not very compelling, and this discussion needs to be focused less on what has happened and more on how to avoid it happening in your company.
Here is a simple way to insulate your company as much as possible. It is called an “Open Door Philosophy”. An Open Door Philosophy is much more than just installing the mechanics of a reporting process. Many companies, especially public ones where government regulations require it, have an anonymous hot line people can call to report things such as sexual harassment. I find it interesting that in most of the recent cases, no one did. Yet, it was generally known within the inner circles that things were going on, and most people in those circles were not shocked when it came out. So, how come no one spoke up? Or, did they speak up and it was covered up by people more worried about profits than values and character? Most of the offenders were fired. Yes, they were. But, what if the situations had been attended to properly when they first came up versus a reaction? What if the victims had felt they had someone at the highest levels of an organization they could trust and talk to about a peer, or even the CEO, being the offender?
Having a hotline where harassment CAN be reported is not enough…having an Open Door Philosophy versus a “policy” is what is needed and the centerpiece of your protection. An Open Door Philosophy means every member of your executive team is charged with (and held accountable for) taking meetings and answering phone calls from any level of your organization when they have a complaint.
Won’t it be a lot of work and won’t employees skip levels and take advantage of being able to go straight to the top? The answer is that yes, of course that happens. However, catching the one complaint that could escalate and cost the company millions in dollars and in reputation is worth the effort. There’s also the benefit of the psychological impact to the victim of seeing justice served quickly. And, frankly, I can tell you from experience that there is a lot of learning to be had from every phone call if you are really listening.
Setting the conditions that allow for careful listening is the first piece of your company’s protection. The second piece involves dealing productively with what you hear. It doesn’t matter if the offender is the CEO, any other “C” title, or your best performer who’s the backbone of the company’s results. You have to be willing to deal with that person’s behavior, possibly terminate them and, with legal counsel, get the message out as to why. No excuses, no sacred cows, or you may as well not even begin down the path.
To implement a truly effective Open Door Philosophy, you have to communicate about it constantly. It has to be embedded in most of your C Suite members speeches and be a living, breathing, daily part of your culture. Very importantly, the C Suite members have to be out among the employees, they have to be humanized and approachable for it to work.
If you would like to discuss how to implement an Open Door Philosophy at your company, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 615-636-2939. We would love to help.