“Does the election mean that it’s now OK for me to be sexually harassed at work?”
After 30 years in corporate HR, I now coach other executives. And even with all that history, I was stunned when one of my female clients told me that several women have asked her that since election day. “Of course not!”, I said, but when another woman had the same concern the next day, I had to think about the question more seriously.
Sexual harassment – along with discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, family status or disability – remains illegal, and no serious legislator has suggested decriminalizing it. But when women – or people of color, disability, different religions, etc. – are mocked and disrespected by someone who is elected president, it makes sense to question the value of legal protections if sixty million voters can look the other way.
Thanks to mentors like Irene Natividad, founder and president of the Global Summit of Women, I’ve worked for many years to promote women’s economic empowerment. I’m not sure I count as a real “feminist” but I’m certainly a happy “capitalist”. I work for women’s economic strength and parity because I believe it’s good for business, for women and for men.
Companies of all sizes have clear policies about sexual harassment and discrimination. In most of those companies, the commitment goes beyond a policy statement into the core of the organization: its values, its culture, its principles of leadership. But even in the best-intentioned company, there may be people who violate either the letter of the law or the spirit of respect that it represents. These violations can be overt or subtle, masked with humor or inadvertent. They can be small slights or blatant discrimination. Now, more than ever, they can’t be allowed or we risk eroding those hard won protections for women and minorities and damaging our businesses in doing so.
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Create a personal “zero tolerance policy” about demeaning speech – don’t “let it go” or laugh it off. If someone speaks offensively, speak up. It’s scary to speak up. And so necessary.
Require respect and civility around you. Disagreement and divergent opinions underpin innovations and great businesses but these debates call for an inclusive and open tone. My grandfather used to say, “it’s fine to call a spade a spade, but you don’t have to call it a ‘damn shovel’”.
Model the behavior you want to see in others. None of us is perfect but this is the time to raise the bar, to raise your standards of tolerance, to raise your willingness to listen openly to others.
Encourage courage. Everyone needs someone to talk to. There are some problems that can’t be solved until you’ve talked them through with a trusted advisor. When you’re the person others are talking to, don’t make it a gripe session but promote productive action. Whining never solved anything. Help people find practical solutions and the courage they need to enact them.
If you’re in a corporate setting, talk with Human Resources. There are professionals in there to listen to concerns, investigate complaints and help frame responses. That’s what they’re trained to do. Use them.[/message] [su_spacer]
Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” As thoughtful business people, interested in successful companies, it is up to us to ensure that our organizations remain places where people thrive based on their abilities, and that everyone has a fair opportunity to contribute. Each and every one of us can make our organizations places where this happens — for all people, all the time.