With the resignation of Marc Overmars, coming hot on the heels of the allegations against the Voice, the reality of the extent and severity of workplace sexual assault & harassment is starting to become clear. What’s also becoming clear is that no sector is immune. We have seen its prevalence in the Entertainment Industry, the Sporting world and in corporate environments across the Globe.
So what now? What must companies do to ensure that they are protecting their employees from predators and preventing workplace sexual assault & harassment?
A real, raw and honest review of their current workplace culture – Companies must now be prepared to really ‘look under the rock’ of their organization with a truly inquisitorial remit. They must be prepared to investigate into cultures of protectionism and the ‘invisible’ cultural boundaries that prevent employees speaking up without a preconceived notion. This must be a true fact finding mission that must go so much further than meeting their basic legal obligation and policy and practice. How have complaints been dealt with in the past? What has been the priority? What follow up was there with the victim following an investigation? Were employees made aware that they can seek legal advice? Is it a safe workplace environment that recognises intrinsic needs of their employees? Is it a culture where employees can advocate for themselves [not just the company]? Are there clear and consistently applied policies and practices or are there unwritten rules inconsistently applied depending on how important the perpetrator is to the business?
It’s time to go deep and to ask the hard questions. However, these questions cannot be answered by the C-suite. Companies must connect with their employees openly and transparently. They can use anonymous focus groups to get the real deal from their employee base and they must listen with an intention to learn [verses managing any legal or PR exposure]. They should employ a scientific approach to understand what needs to change and must commit to meaningfully addressing what they find and to hold perpetrators accountable.
From this review Companies must then define their action plan. If executed, this plan will trigger the now critical workplace cultural shifts towards a safer workplace environment. The specifics of the plan will vary according to the outcome of the review and must be tailored to the specific company need. However, it will include the tools [training modules, review and overhaul of the complaint & investigation process, personnel changes, management and executive coaching, trauma coaching and awareness, a follow up model to support victims, employee relations to support holding perpetrators accountable] necessary to Identify the desired workplace behaviours and how to model them.
These recent allegations MUST serve as a call to action to all organisations and employers to urgently take account of their workplace culture. Not because of the legal risk or potential damage to their brand; or the business costs and disruptions of an investigation or scandal but because of the severely damaging impact that these sexually transgressive behaviours and abuses have on more than half of their company. It’s time for companies to face their reality and to take accountability and take the critical steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees.