As a manager of people for 30 years and now a management consultant, the topic of sexual harassment comes up many times in this work. It is one of most pervasive problems in the workforce including many businesses and government offices. This problem was intended to be addressed and resolved many years ago with the Federal Civil Rights Act. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is not acceptable for anyone to harass and be allowed to perpetuate sexual harassment in a corporate or government setting. Period. It is not okay to permit it by no action on behalf of management; it isn’t okay to initiate it, it is not okay to remain silent when you see it as an employee or manager. Yet it continues to occur in many business environments throughout the United States.
When I listened a year ago to then Candidate Trump’s description of his ways with women and his assertion that he is all powerful and in control of any situation with women; it was appalling. When I listened to Mr. Weinstein, a powerful man in Hollywood, cajole and attempt to guilt and severely pressure someone in a vulnerable position to his room, it reminded me of the times I was harassed and how this issue of sexual harassment is condoned in many ways in business. By the way, I also have known women in power to harass men inappropriately as well. This problem is about power and control and it is important to have rules in each business and government to balance out the power and control with policies and intolerance of such actions.
My experience of harassment I wanted to use as an example happened when I was very young and vulnerable; when there was no human resources person in the company; there were no policies in place to handle such situations and I needed that job.
I was 19 years old, in college, working two full-time jobs in the summer to pay for my school tuition to become an engineer. I was working for a technology company. I asked to move my shift to 11:00 p.m. to 7 a.m. because I had another job from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Throughout the summer, for five days a week, 80 hour/week, I was earning not much more than minimum wage to pay for school. It was grueling, but I wanted my college degree. The first night on this new shift, the 5 other co-workers, all women, pulled me aside and said the supervisor is a ‘toucher’. A toucher?, yes, he will walk up behind you and wrap his arms around you and grab your breasts. Say what?! That won’t happen to me. I asked the other women if they reported it, they told me no, because they needed their jobs and they believed they would be fired for reporting the harassment.
Several weeks later, that supervisor walked up behind me and grabbed me. Immediately, I turned to him and shouted out “If you ever touch me again you fucking asshole, I will knock you out!!!” He walked away. The next day, I got called in to the company owner’s office before shift and I was given a reprimand for talking inappropriately to this supervisor and moved to 2nd shift where I could get along better. They told me that I was lucky to keep my job and the only reason I was getting to stay was because I was a hard worker. The supervisor got to keep his job with no repercussions and continued to harass the women of the 3rd shift.
I have a friend who worked for a city for over 30 years. She was married with two grown children but always felt that her job was in jeopardy and would worry ceaselessly about her job. When I spoke to her several years ago, she relayed to me a story of harassment that reminds us as managers why we need to keep training everyone on protocol with respect to how to report harassment. Nancy (not her real name) got a new boss a year before we spoke, she said he continued to make her feel uneasy about whether she was going to be fired. (From working with her for 6 years, I know that she was a hard worker. There was no reason for her to believe she was going to be fired.) He inveigled her into performing oral sex on him during the work hours for over 6 months. She was so sure she was going to lose her job; she would do anything to keep it. Someone else found out about these activities and reported it. This organization has and had then a human resources department. When I overcame my shock and surprise, I asked her why she didn’t report him to HR, she stated that she believed that they wouldn’t believe her and was convinced that they were there for the management and not for the employee. Nancy is still recovering from this incident and may never fully feel better about themselves. The supervisor was terminated after this incident was investigated.
I was a Department Head for a small community and the City Manager happened to be a woman. This woman began one staff meeting with the department heads discussing that she was interested in having the police have mountain bikes to ride around town on their shifts. And since they, all males, were going to ride the bicycles, she wanted them to wear spandex shorts and that Officer George (not his real name) should have to model those shorts for her so that she knows they are the right ones to wear. Wink, Wink. Seriously. When I did speak up about how inappropriate that was and shouldn’t be happening in this city; nothing changed. But no modeling happened, however, this City Manager was caught having an affair with a police officer several years later.
These situations and many like them shouldn’t happen. But if they do happen in your organization; as a manager, you must act. There are several ways to minimize sexual harassment in the workplace: 1) Have good, comprehensive policies not to tolerate sexual harassment and follow them; 2) Have a structure that allows for reporting of this problem at any level in the organization; 3) Listen to any concerns and act by investigating to a full extent what has happened and provide discipline or termination when warranted; and 4) Provide training for all employees regarding all harassment and how your company handles situations that may occur on a regular basis.
Every workplace should have up-to-date policies that state no sexual harassment is tolerated by anyone in the organization or working with the organization. These policies should be updated annually, reviewed with the staff and the staff should sign a form stating that they have read the policies and know that they are required to follow those policies. The policy manual should be reviewed with each new employee as they start their job with you. Keep these signed forms in each person’s personnel file. With this document, you will have the basis of how you will handle a proven case of sexual harassment.
Policy for Reporting Sexual Harassment
Each organization should also have a policy discussing where harassment is reported. For larger organizations, there is usually a Human Resources department. That department should be available for the employees to address such issues and annually the employees should be reminded of the reporting structure. So now think about small organizations; and the Executive Director or the Manager is the apparent harasser, what should the employee do? This needs to be defined in each organization. I cannot tell you how many small organizations have no process for how an employee should report an Executive Director or CEO or City Administrator participating in negative behavior.
Investigate Complaints Fairly
Each complaint needs to be investigated and facts determined. In larger organizations, there are generally staff or a specific contractor used to do this. In a small organization, the company attorney or human resources specialists can assist in more complex situations. This organization can assist you in these types of matters. When sexual harassment is determined to have occurred; discipline or terminate those responsible in accordance with the seriousness of the situation.
Train Staff Effectively
It is important to remind all staff to follow the Human Resource Manuals. These trainings can be one to four hours once a year and be very important in maintaining a culture of no harassment allowed in your organization.