“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
With the voices of women echoing from the ranks of the entertainment industry and the chambers of Congress about the evils of sexual harassment, the jaw-dropping numbers of powerful men toppling from their pedestals and promises of severe consequences to perpetrators in order to bring about the end of such misconduct, one wonders where corporate America stands on this issue. The executive suites and corridors of business and industry have been, by comparison, deafeningly quiet on the subject, at least publicly.
Culture of Respect and Inclusion Is At the Core
It is possible, even probable, that many in the corporate sector are hoping that the outcry will fade and that the whole mess will go away. But evading the issue is neither a plan nor a reliable escape route. Big business and industry must stand up and join the conversation, demonstrating that they are ready with tough policies and actions to prevent, counter and remedy sexual harassment.
To assist in the effort, attorney and consultant Kelly Marinelli outlines strategies for human resources professionals in her recent LinkedIn article. Ms. Marinelli points out that companies must do more than merely publish policy and provide training; they must ensure that their corporate cultures encourage respect and inclusion in order to eliminate the issue of sexual harassment. Many of us have experienced or observed that providing training and establishing policies in the absence of a respectful and inclusive corporate culture does not prevent sexual harassment. Without a strong commitment from senior management, employees discover that there is little enforcement of anti-sexual harassment policies or support for victims who report violations. Often, complaints result in situations ranging from the complainant being transferred to another business unit to being forced out of her job, her company and even her industry.
To fix this problem now and for the future, companies need to take urgent actions. And they should be loud about it. Employees must be assured that their employers are taking proactive, unambiguous and zero-tolerance stands on preventing sexual harassment and reasonably and effectively dealing with violations and complaints. No longer can companies — no matter what their size — avoid or mishandle this issue. Sitting on a powder keg does not prevent it from blowing up.
News reports over the past many months have revealed that sexual harassment has ruined the careers of untold numbers of women. This has not only negatively impacted women economically, physically and emotionally but it has also negatively impacted their families and even the industries that expelled them and ultimately the nation’s economy. The damage incurred by sexual harassment runs deep and wide.
And, please, to truly clear the air, let’s eradicate from our language the cynical expression, “politically correct,” a defensive term created and used by those who are now expected to behave respectfully toward those for whom it previously has been acceptable to disparage and marginalize.
Diversification Efforts Tied To Sexual Harassment Levels
A recent article in Variety suggests that a company’s diversification efforts are directly tied to the level of sexual harassment its employees experience, and that for publicly traded companies at least, senior management compensation should be tied to the company’s achievement of its diversity goals. The article also suggests that HR staff should have a direct reporting line to the board of directors and that senior executives and board members alike be personally liable for the sexual harassment behavior of its employees.
Big corporations and manufacturing firms must lead the effort to quash sexual harassment across all workplaces, regardless of size or industry. Within these giants, affinity groups such as women’s initiative networks can play a major role in elevating and clarifying the issue and turning up the volume about it.
As well, industry groups can spotlight the issue through their publications, meetings and events. Last year, even before the sexual harassment deluge of accusations, the annual gathering of the Advertising Federation of Minnesota cleverly and boldly featured an elephant in the room to bring attention to gender inequality in the advertising industry.
The message coming out of Hollywood is “time’s up.” Corporate America should take this message seriously. There is a talent pool consisting of millions of women wondering to which company they should apply or from which they should accept an offer. The companies that stand up to sexual harassment will attract this talent, making both employers and employees winners.
Until next time,