How do you know if harassment exists in your workplace? And do you want to know?
With increasing awareness of workplace harassment and mounting pressure from those external to but with a stake in your organisation, it is simply not good practice nor business sense to assume “sexual harassment doesn’t exist in our organisation.” “This issue doesn’t apply to us”.
How do you know? Have you asked? It’s time to start asking questions.
Let’s start addressing the myth that no news is good news.
An official complaint may never have been brought against an employee in your organisation, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t exist.
After all, harassment thrives on secrecy. It is carried out hidden from view and victims are hushed by shame in having somehow unwittingly attracted the unwanted attention and fear of retribution in speaking out. Harassment also most frequently involves a perpetrator who is in a position of authority and trust.
This therefore suggests that harassment can be present but is concealed or gone unnoticed. That is, not until someone does find the courage speak out.
And you may have policies and procedures in place, but have they been read by anyone other than the person who wrote the employee handbook? Are they gathering dust?
No news and more importantly no conversation is a warning sign for an underbelly of secrecy and concealment. Questions are key.
But, just as speaking out against harassment in the workplace can be intimidating for victims, initiating the conversation about your workplace and lifting the lid of an issue that otherwise was believed not to exist, requires grit.
You also need to be able to answer some questions of your own. Are you prepared to listen to the responses? Are you able and willing to act? Are you able to accept the reasons why employees feel unable to speak out? Are you prepared to challenge and change your organisation’s culture?
Implementing harassment and discrimination training is a great way to both demonstrate your commitment to creating a culture of openness and start these conversations. Conversations among peers to maintain the power-balance can be particularly enlightening.
As well as empowering individuals to speak out through experience sharing, training can also be provided to help HR and senior management recognise the signs of workplace harassment and ensure they are seen as allies and trusted in their position of authority rather than facilitators of inappropriate behaviour in allowing it to go unchallenged.
Increased awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace means businesses are feeling increased pressure from both shareholders – with concerns for financial and reputational risk – and from stakeholders and employees, wanting confidence in the organisation they have made a commitment to, to address the issue. It’s time to start the conversation.
If your organisation would benefit from training workshops from an impartial, third-party HR professional – just like our Tell Jane consultants – get in touch today or check out our website for details of our next breakfast briefing event.