I am shocked, shocked I tell you….

Following the Weinstein scandal, the shockwaves of harassment gradually being uncovered throughout different industries has many HR managers nervously checking the employee handbook. How do you make sure you have the right culture, policies and processes in place to make sure it doesn’t happen in your organisation?

 The CIPD suggest looking at policies, procedures and behaviours and they provide a handy guide of what to look for. However, it is the behaviours that allow harassment to happen that are the most difficult to change. These can be insidious and so deep seated within the organisation that we may not even be aware of them until someone points it out

Many years ago, I worked in an office in the City where a manager had a picture of a practically naked model as a screen saver. I said I thought that was disrespectful to women. The manager just laughed and said I was over sensitive. Mind you, he was part of a group that had recently come back from a conference where they had all ended up in a lap dancing bar. They were all having great fun teasing one of the other managers who had begun a relationship with one of the dancers.

Nobody in the organisation seemed worried by any of this at the time, so I just ignored the screensavers and carried on.

In retrospect, I am shocked and appalled, just like all the people exclaiming about the Presidents Club dinner. But I remind myself of Captain Renault in Casablanca (who was famously “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here,” just before collecting his winnings.) You see, I didn’t march off to HR and report any of these managers or complain about their behaviour. I just let it go and I wasn’t really than bothered at the time. Now I wonder why not? What stopped me?

The answer is that I had no expectations of what workplaces should be like – it was my first job and I was used to boys behaving like idiots at school, so I just went with the flow.

My reaction can be explained a bit more by the TUC report on harassment 'Just a bit of banter') They comment that; “measuring the extent of sexual harassment is complicated by the fact that perceptions of sexual harassment vary from person to person, from country to country, and over time.”

In other words, we all get used to the “norm” of wherever we are and generally go along with it.

However, even so in 2015 Girlguiding UK found that seventy-five per cent of girls and young women said anxiety about potentially experiencing sexual harassment affects their lives in some way. As far back as 2012, the Everyday Sexism project, launched by Laura Bates, successfully highlighted the pervasiveness of sexism in society, including sexual harassment at work.

And this pervasiveness is the key point. HR has a responsibility to keep an eye on the prevailing culture of the workplace and set expectations. This makes it possible for people to question things and hold everyone to account. If this isn’t done, everyone turns a blind eye and soon behaviour that can make a lot of people uncomfortable becomes the norm.

The TUC also draw attention to a survey in 2013, by the law firm Slater Gordon which found that some 60 per cent of women had experienced “inappropriate behaviour” from a male colleague in the workplace and nearly half of those surveyed had been warned to expect inappropriate behaviour from particular colleagues when they had started their job. Only 27 per cent of those surveyed felt able to report the behaviour to someone senior.”

At least now we are aware that this is not acceptable. So, follow the check list below to make sure your workplace is modelling the right sort of behaviours:

 1. In the first place, look at how you describe your culture and values. Are you emphasising the fact that you want an environment where everything is based on equality and respect? As the CIPD say, “When dealing with harassment at work, prevention is better than cure. Engaging with employees on the issue and raising awareness of the company’s zero-tolerance policy for unacceptable behaviour are key to avoiding incidences of sexual harassment occurring in the first place.

2. Review your policies and procedures to check that these are robust and provide the right sort of protection. For example, where would a junior member of staff go to report a hesitant concern about someone senior to them looking at inappropriate pictures in the office? What would a member of staff, worried about their next promotion do if they felt someone more senior was pressurising them into a relationship? 

3. Make sure all staff are aware of and educated about policies and procedures. The CIPD say: “Line managers should be trained and confident in implementing the organisation’s policies and dealing with any concerns or complaints. They should also be competent to have with individuals and manage conflict. More help in putting this in place can be found on https://www.ibe.org.uk/ 

4. Procedures need to be there to investigate when procedures have not worked. “HR has a vital role to play here, ensuring that all complaints are taken seriously and investigated in line with the law and the organisation's procedures. Fairness should underpin the process, and the organisation’s procedures should protect both the individual raising the issue and the individual against whom an allegation has been made.” 

5. Then model the sort of behaviour you want to see in the office and make sure this starts at the top. For example, it really isn’t helpful if one of the senior managers is waving around the office a copy of the email from his colleagues’ new lap dancing girlfriend, acquired on a corporate trip. “Senior leaders and line managers need to consistently role model and champion these behaviours so that people feel secure and can get on with their work without worry or fear of recrimination should they raise any concerns.” 

For support in developing the right behaviours in the office and raising awareness of what you want to see in the workplace contact us at Margaret Martin.

Margaret Cheng

Senior Consultant
Margaret Martin Associates Ltd

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