By Dr. Wanda Wallace
Given all the headline news about #MeToo, I am finding that men and women are increasingly interested in knowing what to do. I did two recent interviews on the topic.
As Susan Strauss, an expert on harassment explained, in the US, harassment is legally defined as unwelcome, pervasive and/or severe behavior directed at a protected class (e.g., gender, race, religion, disability) that a reasonable person would see as such.
SHINING A LIGHT ON THE ISSUE
Davia Temin, a management consultant, helps corporations create, enhance and save their reputations, about best practices to end sexual harassment, and how to deal with claims that arise. Davia says that today versus the past “victims are far more likely to report it and organizations are far more likely to take it seriously”.
The soaring popularity of social media and the accessibility of recording devices like smartphones result in a distinct lack of privacy. It is no longer possible to ignore allegations, stories spread rapidly and “workers are finding their own voice and becoming less afraid of using it,” says Davia.
Between December 2015 and September 2018, Davia found more than 468 cases that were high profile enough to be reported in at least seven major publications. These accusations are found in all sectors, but, all but nine of the accused were men.
Times have certainly changed. Baby boomers have generally been more tolerant of actions, such as unwanted touching, that today are seen as harassment. However, in recent decades, college campuses have emphasized how men and women can avoid “date rape”. As a result, Davia finds that younger generations are less tolerant of unwelcome touching in the workplace.
WHAT TO DO AS A VICTIM
If you feel you are a victim of harassment, Susan advises that there are many options. Begin with telling the person how the behavior impacts you and escalating to reporting the behavior to HR or senior leaders. Susan notes that 90% of targets do not report the behavior or confront the person. The most important thing to do is to document in great detail what happened, when it happened, how you felt, who was present, what was said and so on. Also, tell someone else about the incident.
BEST PRACTICES FOR COMPANIES AND SENIOR LEADERS Davia Temin recommends a number of practices that companies should put in place now before there is an incident. These include the following.
Have a clear, unequivocal commitment to fairness, justice and compassion within your organization. Let people know that harassment will not be tolerated. Make it clear to your teams what the rules are.
Make it easy to report any incidents. Hotlines are a good option.
Protect the accuser. “The minute anyone gets retribution for reporting an incident, it goes around the organization like wildfire” says Davia.
Have a “pristine” process in place to investigate reports, preferably by a third party, that protects the rights of all involved and that thoroughly investigates the incident.
Report serious instances to the risk and audit committee of the board.
Report other problems to HR. They should be allowed to handle the less serious allegations.
“It behooves every organization to seriously look into every allegation, even if you know or strongly suspect that it’s specious, or that it doesn’t rise to your definition of sexual harassment you still have to investigate it, because that sends the signal that this behavior is not tolerated,” says Davia.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE ACCUSED
Susan Strauss advises that companies and individuals treat first incidents like any performance issue. As the accused, get clear feedback and listen. Try to understand how your actions were received by the accuser.
Susan further advises that if you are guilty, own up to it and make a commitment to not repeat the behavior. Make sure that you apologize for your actions. However, never give an apology that is not genuine. Training can also help provided it’s focused on the underpinnings not just the legal aspects of harassment.
If you are not guilty, Susan advises that you document what you did, what you said, when, to whom, who was present and so forth. Davia recommends that you profess your personal code of ethics. “If you have been accused, and it is not true, profess that this is just not possible according to your clear personal code.“ Then, acknowledge the accusers issue, say to them “my best intentions may have been wrong, I may not have been understood, or I may not have expressed myself correctly. If this is the case, I am truly sorry.” says Davia.
TO AVOID ACCUSATIONS
For men (or women) who are concerned about whether or not it’s ok to touch a woman (or man) at work in a non-sexual way, realize that while your intent may have been positive, especially when there is a power difference, the perception may be different than you intended. Be aware and ask how your well-intentioned, actions are received. Ask if someone was uncomfortable with something you did. Apologize where appropriate.
How can companies handle stories if they should hit the press or social media? The overall message has to be: We will not allow this kind of behavior to happen and we are dedicated to getting to the bottom of it. We will hold people accountable.
“That kind of clarity of message, backed up by fair due process can keep these problems from happening or spiraling out of control,” says Davia.
“What you do, is treat everyone, regardless of gender, with the same physical, psychological and emotional respect,” says Davia.
Davia Temin is chief executive of Temin and Company (http://www.teminandcompany.com/), a New York management consultancy that helps corporations create, enhance and save their reputations.
Dr. Susan Strauss (http://www.straussconsulting.net) is nationally recognized expert, author and international speaker on discrimination, harassment and bullying in the workplace.
To hear more listen to the podcasts.
Davia Temin, “Leading in a MeToo Era” https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/109325/leading-in-a-metoo-era
Susan Strauss, “On Bullying and Harassment” https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/113531/on-bullying-and-harassment-with-susan-strauss