HELP WANTED: CEO, especially one who isn’t a damn knuckledragger!

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In February, a female Uber employee blogging under the pseudonym Amy Vertino blew the lid off of what she alleged to be a corporate culture of misogyny and other rampant discrimination. Recently, there have been several additional high-profile stories of alleged sex discrimination and harassment at the very top of the ladder. Here’s a recent example reported on Monday.

But, allegations of sexism in the C-Suite have been around long before Uber, Fox News, and Mad Men.

So why is it now that the chickens are coming home to roost? And what can your business do to try to avoid these issues?


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A top-down approach.

About a year ago, I blogged here about how the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was calling on businesses to “reboot” workplace harassment prevention efforts. In its “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace: Report of Co-Chairs Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic,” the task force not only preached training but trumpeted how leadership must set the example for the rest of the workforce. Specifically, the EEOC highlighted four steps an organization’s leadership can take “to ensure that its organizational culture reflects the leadership’s values of not tolerating harassment and promoting civility and respect.”

It seems appropriate now to dust these off for your consumption:

  1. Leadership must establish a sense of urgency about preventing harassment. This involves leading with both words and actions. Leaders must clearly articulate what behaviors will be acceptable at work and commit to ensuring that the culture is maintained. But also, be visible. Talk to employees and learn the soft spots of the organization. Do employees who work in isolation have avenues through which to effectively complain about working conditions? And, especially in workplaces with many teenagers and young adults entering the workforce, it’s important to set the tone early through orientation and other onboarding training that certain conduct is not acceptable and workers are encouraged to come forward quickly with any concerns.
  2. An organization must have effective policies and procedures and must conduct effective trainings on those policies and procedures. Anti-harassment policies must be communicated and adhered to, and reporting systems must be implemented consistently, safely, and in a timely fashion. (This recent SHRM article from Debbie Dougherty can help you spot some of the holes in your sexual harassment policy). And, of course, pair that policy with training. The full Report has suggestions on both effective policies and trainings.
  3. Leadership must invest capital: both money and time. The EEOC Report stresses authenticity in demanding a workplace free of harassment. But, here’s where actions definitely speak louder than words. Company must budget for anti-harassment protocols and then commit to taking the time to train employees and managers by scheduling the actual training sessions.
  4. Leadership must vest managers and others in a position to create policy and change at work with enough power to do so. Otherwise, old habits won’t die hard.

Linked below are a number of recent posts and articles about addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. Many of them focus on the problems of sexual harassment in the venture capital world. But, each of them has somewhere between a few and several nuggets that may fit for your workplace.

If your business has succeeded at addressing sexual harassment with a top-down approach from leadership, please email me. I’ve love to hear your success story.

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