As the horrors of the sexual harassment stories unfold, many executives find themselves turning the search light on their own internal procedures. The wave of sexual harassment incidents reported by women is great news for media houses, but for organizations it is an indication of troubling issues that require attention. The sexual harassments stories, so far, show high profile employees or top executives to be the harassers. We can hardly keep track of these powerful men who have been accused of sexual misconduct. This chilling realization has cast a gloom over an important tier of the management structure. It is dark days for companies that are faced with the separation of top executives and senior managers, especially those known to be star performers.
As sexual allegations become more widespread, many companies are hoping their corporate “closet” is free from any sexual misdemeanour. The frenetic rush to avoid any disparaging disclosure to the public has placed sexual harassment at the top of the agenda. We all want to fix the sexual harassment problem. In doing so, it is prime time to bring to surface some major factors that nourish the perpetration of sexual misconduct.
Here are some major warning signs for organizations:
Excessive Hierarchical Structures – Most organizations have some degree of hierarchy, but too many layers of structural differentiation create power imbalances among people. Within the ranking of positions, power groups emerge, and subordinates are often the vulnerable ones. It is not unusual to hear about cases of humiliation, intimidation and coercion perpetrated by superiors. The higher up the hierarchy is the greater the chance of power abuse. As affiliations within power groups grow stronger, there are some superiors who believe they are entitled to make any request – even shameful or unethical. This is exactly the environment where females or weaker employees become easy targets to sexual predators.
Gender Discrimination – If men are more favoured for higher paying positions, then women are placed in a lower rank. This simply gives men the clout to think they are superior to women which creates an atmosphere for discriminatory treatment, unfair requests and repressed feelings. Implementing equity frameworks and stamping out sexism would help. This would reduce some of the powerlessness and psychological stress women often experience when standing up for themselves.
Weak Leadership – It is the responsibility of organizational leaders to make the workplace a safe and respectful environment, free from sexual harassment or feelings of victimization. If employees believe that infractions committed by certain power groups are kept as secrets with no consequences, then a case of sexual misconduct by a high-profile executive is likely to remain unreported. If the leadership team advocates high ethical standards throughout the functional roles of executives, then there will be less inclination or boldness to commit shameful and unacceptable actions.
Ineffective HR Departments – If human resources departments fail to seriously probe allegations of harassment, then employees are bound to feel helpless, fearful and humiliated. Human resources departments that are effective will establish and enforce a policy framework that guards and preserves the dignity of all, regardless of rank or position. Promoting a culture of zero tolerance for sexual harassment is a good start.
Absence of Training – Organizations that allocate little or no funds to training bear the adverse consequences. In fact, the burden is on the employer to take reasonable steps to educate employees on sexual harassment. Although training may not necessarily eliminate complaints or prevent the brazen advances of predators, the information disseminated to employees will provide procedures to address sexual allegations. This is also an opportunity to reveal to employees the readiness of the organization to intervene. Besides, offering sexual harassment training to both management and employees, reinforces an organization climate of zero tolerance for sexual misconduct.
At Pesce & Associates, our consultants have years of experience in creating and shaping the culture of workplaces. We are ready to help you create an organizational environment that is respectful, fair and inclusive for all. If you are looking to create an anti-harassment work environment, we have the expertise to transform your organization. We also have vast experience in conducting workplace investigations.