If you’ve followed the #MeToo or #ReclaimTheseStreets movements, you’ll know that social media has been alight with people, especially women, sharing their experiences of sexual harassment.
But in the workplace, speaking up hasn’t been something that, historically and even now, employees have found easy to do.
In my previous blog, I highlighted that only 44% of female victims would be “very likely” to report an incident in their workplace and this figure falls to 32% amongst men.
These are worrying statistics; employers who do not act are dicing with legal implications and risk losing talented and skilled people. But, fundamentally, everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work.
Actions speak louder than words
There are a number of reasons why people remain silent, including misunderstandings over what constitutes sexual harassment, not knowing who to speak to and not trusting that they will be taken seriously.
How can your actions encourage more people to speak up?
Establish robust policies
Despite the Equality Act 2010 recognising sexual harassment as sex discrimination, regulation alone is not sufficient in eradicating discriminatory attitudes. That’s why it’s important for employers to put their own wording in place, clearly and strongly stating their stance against harassment and discrimination.
Clear reporting channels
All employees should be made aware how to raise a complaint and to whom. Some people may understandably lack confidence in reporting such incidents, so companies may consider offering confidential methods of reporting such as employee hotlines run by third parties who can provide support. This may encourage more people to come forward if complaints centre on a manager or senior figure in the company.
Training for Line Managers
A Line Manager may be the first person a victim speaks to. They need to be competent, not just in implementing their organisation’s policies and procedures, but in being able to have open and sensitive conservations.
Follow your policies
It may feel appropriate to deal with complaints informally, depending on their level of seriousness, which could involve a manager simply raising the issue with the perpetrator. However, if this approach does not work, formal procedures should be triggered. It’s important that all policies and procedures are followed consistently and diligently to give confidence to victims that their cases will be taken seriously.
All cases should be investigated objectively and with fairness. Your company’s procedures should ensure protection for both the person raising the issue and the alleged perpetrator.
Take action where complaints are upheld
Make sure suitable sanctions are given when a complaint is upheld to show incidents are not simply swept under the carpet. If appropriate, you may wish to offer guidance to those whose behaviour falls below par, as well as those affected by the harassment.
Prevention is always better than cure
While all businesses should be prepared to handle reports of sexual harassment, what we really want is to prevent them from happening in the first place.
People cannot perform at their best under the fear of harassment, so emphasis should be on creating workplaces that value difference and promote the importance of respect.
Unlike pulling together a complaints procedure, work on fostering a culture of inclusivity is not something that can be done overnight. It requires the consistent evaluation and reinforcement of values; work that is truly never done.
Here’s how you get started:
- Decide on your values – Start by putting in place a robust policy that states your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity and promotes dignity and respect at work.
- Engage with your people – Don’t just take it as read! Ensure your employees know what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable behaviour through training. In fact, according to Acas, 60% of people believe that better awareness of sexual harassment through training would be effective in reducing incidents in the workplace. Induction may be a good place to set clear expectations but these need to be reiterated to all employees on a regular basis.
- Evaluate your company’s diversity – Organisations should monitor the diversity of its workforce at every level, including gender. This should provide a clear picture of where there are gaps in representation or areas within the business where there is potential bias, however unconscious, taking place.
- Challenge unacceptable behaviour – Make sure your leaders play their part in making your company’s policies a reality, by taking action when inappropriate behaviour is witnessed or reported, and by being consistent role models in their behaviour towards their teams.
- Take time to listen – Proactively and regularly listening to your employees is vital. Anonymous surveys are one valuable way of gathering feedback on perceptions of inclusivity and what work still needs to be done.
While prevention is better than cure, incidents of harassment do occur. At Tell Jane, our highly-experienced HR practitioners can help you resolve issues before they escalate, conduct independent investigations on your behalf and establish preventative methods to protect your business and people from the future impact of toxic behaviour. Get in touch by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about how we can support you.