Tag Archives: sexual harassment

Men Must Do More to End Harassment

But again we have been rocked by explosive allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, there are now more than 30 women who have stepped forward. Weinstein admits to bad behavior but claims it was all consensual. From what I have read, this is not a good defense, even for a science fiction movie.

Weinstein is far from the only predator in Hollywood, and Hollywood is just a symptom of the problem. The casting couch can affect who gets plum assignments, leads, contacts, etc. in any industry. Few men with power would ever consider, let alone engage in, the kind of conduct engaged in by Weinstein and others but they must do more than just refrain from the indefensible. With power, men have the opportunity, indeed the obligation, to create cultures where harassment does not flourish. So what do we do?

1. Stand up in the moment.
You don’t need to have a daughter to stand up. You just need a conscience and a spine. So speak up if you see or hear bad behavior. To be silent is to condone. Yes, the worst behaviors are very often private but sometimes they are accompanied by less serious but still bad public behavior. For example, don’t laugh at the sexist jokes. Instead, make clear they are offensive to you and then take corrective action.

The less serious public behaviors may be but the tip of the iceberg. Where appropriate, engage a third party to see if there is more than meets the eye. Climate surveys by skilled professionals can uncover what has not been reported without creating claims where none may exist.

2. Don’t wait for the direct complaint.
The victims of harassment frequently are embarassed or feel unwarranted shame. Some women won’t vocalize their discomfort but instead avoid the harasser or become uncomfortable when his name is mentioned. Observe closely for, and listen carefully to, signals that something may be wrong.

There won’t always be signals. But where there are warning signs, think about how to offer your help in a way that respects the recipient and does not create an issue where there may not be one. This can and has been done successfully.
3. Create additional reporting vehicles.
Fear of retaliation is a great inhibitor of timely reporting. So you may want to take a look at your company’s policies and at least consider having a procedure by which employees can report complaints externally, even anonymously.

Not every complaint is true and that applies to anonymous complaints, too. But every complaint should be taken seriously, and I have been involved in matters where the ability to report externally and anonymously has led to the facts that resulted in the unmasking of a serial harasser. So consider the option.

4. Hold other leaders accountable.
Harassers sometimes generate big bucks and that is why individuals sometimes cover up for, and even truckle up to, them. You need to cross their bridge to get meaningful work and the money that goes with it. Make clear to other leaders that you expect them not only to refrain from harassing behavior (severe or subtle) but also to report to a designated person or entity complaints or potential problems which they see, hear or of which they otherwise become aware. Ostriches don’t make good leaders.

As with all expectations, reward those who live up to them and punish those who don’t. Your organization is only as strong as its reputation and it can be destroyed if leaders are passive bystanders.

5. Model what you expect.
Most of all, men in power need to be good role models. There is nothing cool about demeaning women. The abuse is both powerful and pathetic. There is no defense to the indefensible. Sexual addiction is no more a defense to harassment than alcoholism is to driving drunk.

Speaking of alcohol, it is a major risk factor. Some cultures celebrate alcohol and such alcohol-centric cultures take away any slim inhibitors that otherwise might exist. Bottom line: it’s on men. Any questions, pal?

This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on 10/20/17.

The Role of HR in Smashing Harassment

Please read my latest post to The SHRM Blog on the importance of HR in stopping harassment.

I have been thinking a lot about Harvey Weinstein and other high-profile cases of serial sexual harassment. These cases are extraordinarily disturbing, to say the very least.

There are some who have suggested that the Weinstein nightmare is simply a Hollywood problem, dismissing it as nothing more than the age old “Hollywood casting couch.”  How patently wrong they are.

Hollywood needs to clean up its act, but it is not just Hollywood. What happens in Hollywood is but a symptom of a much broader societal problem.

Predatory sexual behavior by men with power exists in every industry. Of course, women can engage in harassment, too, but I am not aware of any women who have exploited their power to harass men or women in the way Weinstein and other men have done.

This is not to suggest that all men with power abuse it in such a heinous way. But leaders in general and men in particular must do more than avoid what is wrong, and behavior is wrong long before it rises to the level of what has been reported in the high-profile cases. By their words and their actions, leaders must make the organization’s anti-harassment policy a true reflection of corporate culture.

HR plays a critical role in this battle. Publicly, HR professionals must stand up to harassment and implement holistic programs to prevent it from occurring. But not all preventive efforts will be successful.

When bad behavior happens, there must be consequences. More quietly, HR has and will continue to play a key role in helping to remove from workplaces those who abuse their power and assault the dignity of others.

On social media, I have seen some ask whether HR is protecting the employer or its employees. The answer is both.

HR must protect employees and, in doing so, it protects the business from legal and reputational risk. There is a reason that the “H” in HR stands for human.

Recent events do not create a new issue for HR to tackle. The best HR professionals are already all over it.

But HR has an opportunity, indeed an obligation, to ask itself: What more can be done? The HR professionals with whom I speak are asking questions along the lines of:

  • How do we ensure that leaders do not simply pay for but attend anti-harassment training and make clear their support for it — again, by their words and actions?
  • What is the best way to assess whether there may be a culture of complicity and, if there are complicit people with power, how do we best incent them to do what is right and stand up to what is wrong?
  • Knowing that many women who feel harassed do not bring claims out of fear, how can we create complaint procedures and environments in which employees do not fear retaliation if they raise or support concerns?
  • How do leaders respond “in the moment” to unacceptable conduct without engaging in paternalistic rescuing or re-victimization?
  • Other than thanking an employee for bringing any concerns to their attention, what should leaders say (or not say) when an employee has the courage to open up to them?
  • How can we respect the strong desire of many victims of harassment to keep the matter as confidential as possible but still send a strong message that the company will not brook unacceptable conduct, severe or subtle?
  • What are some promising practices to remind employees throughout the year of the reporting mechanisms, assurances of non-retaliation and harassing behaviors that must be avoided, recognizing that, even in the best cultures, training once a year may not be enough?

These and other questions require careful thought. Our employees deserve nothing less.

But one point must be crystal clear in every organization: The more power you have, the more is expected of you. Those who abuse their power must be met with prompt and proportionate corrective action.

In some cases, this will mean terminating the rainmaker. But if you ignore, or worse yet protect, him, a jury can and will take away all the rain. Plus, values matter.

While I am horrified by recent events, I have some hope by the response I see in the HR community. But HR cannot do it alone; it does not “own” civility.

Every leader must join the battle. It is one of the moral imperatives of our time.

Segal was appointed to and served as a member of the EEOC’s Select Task Force on Harassment. However, Segal speaks for neither the EEOC nor the taskforce.            

THIS BLOG SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE, AS PERTAINING TO SPECIFIC FACTUAL SITUATIONS OR AS ESTABLISHING AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP

Carlson v. Ailes: #Harassment and #HR

I am pleased to share my latest post to the SHRM blog regarding the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Fox Channel Host Gretchen Carlson.

By now, I assume you all have read or at least heard about the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Fox Channel Host Gretchen Carlson against Fox CEO Roger Ailes. Since then, at least a half dozen other women have said that they, too, were harassed by Ailes.

When you heard about the allegations, which of the following responses comes closest to your immediate (visceral) reaction:

  1. This is but another example of a powerful man abusing his position to engage in vile sexual harassment.  We have another serial harasser.
  2. Carlson never complained about harassment until her contract was not renewed.  This is but another example of someone complaining about harassment after they don’t get what they want.
  3. I have no idea.  I need to investigate the facts.

If you look at social media or listen to conversations about the case, you will hear a lot of people who “know” it happened or are “certain” it did not. I have not seen or heard too many say, “I have no idea; it needs to be investigated.”

Now, I return to you. If you are like most people, your visceral response was probably 1 or 2. What does that mean?

We hear a lot of talk about implicit bias. Effectively, we are talking about bias of which we may not be aware.

Here, we are talking about a different kind of bias. That is, our initial responses may reflect explicit bias based on our own experiences as employees or as professionals who investigate harassment complaints.

I acknowledge that my emotional response initially was not “3.” Initially, I was suspicious of the allegations based on timing—that would put me in camp #2.

Then, when I heard that there were at least a half dozen other women claiming harassment, my visceral response changed. Carlson spoke out only when she had nothing left to lose and others then spoke out, too. So, that put me in camp #1.

I am grateful that I am aware of my emotional reactions based on my experiences in evaluating harassment cases. If I am aware of my assumptions based on experience (bias), I can consciously avoid them and investigate the facts impartially without such assumptions. That puts me where I belong: camp #3.

Now, I turn to you and ask that you think about your reaction. It very well may reflect your own personal experience in the workplace, as an employee or as an HR professional in receiving and then investigating harassment claims.

It is quite human to learn from and develop assumptions (biases) based on experience. In fact, if our experiences do not inform our instincts, then we have a developmental problem.

But, we need to be careful not to jump to conclusions based on our experiences generally without carefully evaluating the facts of a specific case. Remember, each case is not about the broader societal issue but rather what happened in that particular case.

Think of your visceral reaction (instinct) to this case. That may reflect your bias. Now that you know it, be careful of it when you investigate complaints in your workplace.

Remember, every complainant is someone’s child, parent, partner, sibling or friend.

The same is true of every accused.

Both deserve a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation before conclusions are reached.

This blog should not be construed as legal advice (or a political opinion).