There has been a lot of commentaries recently on sexual harassment in the workplace. Whether it is the focus on Silicon Valley tech companies, accusations around Hollywood, issues in the hospitality industry, or revelations at the White House, it seems every organization’s culture needs to reconsider how it creates a respectful and safe environment, not just for women, but for all employees and stakeholders.
It has become apparent that offering the typical one-hour training session or simply having a diversity policy in the employee handbook is not enough to overcome the harassment found in many workplaces. Companies need to realize that many harassment training programs are typically ineffective, and the majority of employees never even read their company handbook. Research from the EEOC suggests that harassment claims make up 33% of claims received and 75% of harassment issues go unreported due to fear of retaliation or lack of change. If we are going to prevent workplace harassment, then we need to look to those at the top.
Company culture is the mindset and attitude your employees have about what they do and whom they do it for. Your company’s culture manifests itself in your employees’ behaviors, words, and actions at work. While many elements influence their mindset, the most significant factor that determines your company’s culture is the attitude and actions of owners, executives, and managers.
When sexual harassment is a prevalent mindset and a part of the culture within a company, it is because it has been allowed and often cultivated by those in charge. So, until the Mad Men mindset of treating women and people with different backgrounds as second-class citizens changes by those at the top of our organizations, workplace harassment will continue to be pervasive.
It is no longer acceptable for those in charge to respond to the question, “What do women want?” with Roger Sterling type responses of “Who cares?”. It is time for those who are supposed to set the example to show that they care and be an inclusive example for those who look up to them. Every employee has the right to come to work without the fear of harassment or discrimination. It is the responsibility of everyone in charge to make that happen.
The problem is that many owners, executives, and managers consider themselves immune to the need to adhere to the rules of others. They view the handbook and training classes as something for their employees. In their minds, the need to change is something that everyone else has to do.
Before any real progress can be made, those at the top of organizations need to reflect on how their actions and words affect the organization’s culture; they need to start treating everyone as equals; they need to start respecting the issue of sexual harassment; and they need to create safe work environments. Until those at the top of our organizations begin to treat everyone as equals, the old school, chauvinistic, Mad Men mindset will never go away.