To build a #NotUs culture: Investigate the smoke of sexual harassment.

by | Jul 11, 2019

Use these steps to build a #NotUs culture

It is essential that we encourage and build a #NotUs culture in the workplace, so that we can prevent further cases of sexual harassment.

We have seen a veritable tsunami of sexual abuse charges hitting organisations world wide. Whole cohorts of senior executives have been "let go" in the wake of negative publicity. Some departures have been discreet, while others have been less so and have garnered more publicity. Business leaders are now looking at the challenge from two perspectives; assessing risk exposure and how to tackle any issues. There are many leaders who wonder if they will get splashed by the waves of these exposés, or maybe even sucked under completely. The quicker organisations understand they have to adapt to this new reality, the easier it will be to weather any subsequent storms. They need to shift rapidly, using lessons of the #MeToo movement to grow a #NotUS culture in their organisations.

The smoke of sexual harassment

The reality is that if there were fumes coming out of your kitchen then you would investigate immediately, wouldn't you? First you would look for the source of the problem. You would deal with it according to the gravity of the situation and then set up preventative measures. As a result you may turn down the toaster, make sure the kids check there is water in the kettle before switching it on, ensure the smoke detector works, and possibly even install a fire extinguisher. So why do we let the smoke of sexual harassment become a full-on conflagration before we take action? If there is smoke, there could be a fire. For decades we have ignored that motto in our workplaces especially when related to possible abuse.

Years of inappropriate conduct in the workplace are being revealed with significant velocity. Old cases are being revisited. The days of covert glances of understanding followed by excuses we've all heard before, from "you know what he's like," or "he doesn't mean anything by it," to "he's got a wife and kids," or "he's from x country - it's a cultural misunderstanding," or even "we need him for the business"- will no longer cut it. Remedies such as asking a colleague to "have a quiet word" are no longer adequate.

#NotUs Culture

Turning the other way or making excuses is no longer an option. We need to confront these issues. Tackle them in your workplace with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.

Easier than you think

Despite the groans of dread about the work entailed, most leaders find the steps for a #NotUs culture are easier than they think. First they make a public commitment of their intent to create an inclusive organisation, with zero tolerance of sexual or any harassment. Next they link it to career success. As a result, employees get the message quickly. Abuse is a bedfellow of toxic culture. It is associated with fear, misuse of power and position, or a space where people are concerned to speak up for fear of repercussions. Or worse, a space where they have no voice or channel to report it. Furthermore, it suggests collusion where people know what is going on but fail to check out the smoke of sexual harassment for any fire. Instead they let it smoulder, hoping that damage will be limited. When leaders are ambiguous and prevaricate, they fan the flames.

As a result, this requires a cultural transformation involving: leadership commitment, systemic change and individual behavioural change.

The 12 step plan to build a #NotUs culture

  1. It is a leadership initiative. Sponsoring a two-hour lunch awareness programme on sexism and harassment is a band-aid measure which will have limited impact. It needs a real strategy and a public plan.
  2. Declare a zero tolerance policy publicly on every platform, including employment contracts.
  3. Be clear that there will be serious repercussions for any contravention of policy.
  4. Re-open any reported cases of sexual harassment in the past 5-10 years and look for patterns of behaviour. Do the same names and departments keep coming up? Audit current cases.
  5. Open a safe reporting channel, linked to an external provider, who reports directly to a senior leader.
  6. Listen well. Take every allegation seriously. Do not make any of the excuses we saw above.
  7. Guarantee confidential, pristine processes for investigation that employees can trust.
  8. Investigate openly - there could be a fire. You wouldn't sneak around your own kitchen if smoke was wafting out of it.
  9. Manage a culture of collusion with bystander intervention training.
  10. Involve women at senior levels. Make sure they are in touch with junior and/or younger women. Just because incidents are not reported doesn't mean there is nothing happening.
  11. Monitor backlash. See where it's coming from and view it as part of your research and cultural audit. Do not be deterred by it. Resistance is information and many organisations back off because of it.
  12. Believe you can make a change and monitor and report results. Introduce systems of nudges, interrupters and even financial incentives, via bonus schemes in troubled areas.

These steps require leaders to champion an actionable plan, where it is evident that someone is putting in a huge effort to move the needle. The result of creating a #NotUs culture will yield dividends.

Strong leadership skills are essential for tackling sexual harassment. 3Plus can help you get that edge you need with our Leadership Coaching.

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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