The New York Times recently published an article about sexual harassment in the workplace and what companies in America are scrambling to do about it in the wake of the Weinstein scandal, and many other blatant examples of harassment happening in hundreds…likely thousands, of companies in the U.S. today.
Many possible strategies are discussed here, from traditional sexual harassment training to making sure more women are in top level, C-Suite positions in major US companies.
A high-level consultant said, “We can’t fire our way out of the problem”. While another acknowledged, “The problem is systemic”.
Clearly, everyone with a shred of credibility is acknowledging that the awareness floodgates are open and that sexual harassment in the workplace is a major problem desperately seeking a solution.
While I recognize and appreciate the perspectives of these highly qualified people, I am going to go “Rogue” here, and offer a concrete, and achievable solution to quelling this heinous and reprehensible behavior permeating many American companies.
My solution is simple…and it is one any company can enact. Sexual harassment exists not only because there are abusive people, but also because many employees and leaders of companies allow it to happen, and in many instances seen lately, even cover it up.
Being considered a corporate culture expert, I would like to posit this solution for any company truly serious about addressing this issue. The answer lies not in simply punishing the abusers, nor in implementing behavioral training…if only it were that simple. The problem is “systemic” and exists nearly everywhere.
But, there is a place where sexual harassment simply cannot exist…cannot thrive…cannot be condoned…nor swept under the carpet. That place? A company that has created and nurtured a truly respectful, joyful, empathetic, trusting, and passionate company culture.
The simple truth is that anyone who is toxic, abusive, and would harass others in a healthy, respectful, culture, will not be tolerated. Not for a moment. A harasser existing in a healthy company culture is akin to dropping bacteria into a petri dish of penicillin…it simply cannot survive.
Now, it is true that very few companies have a truly respectful, joyful, culture. Companies must first recognize the symptoms, and huge costs, of unhealthy company culture. Then, put into place a system to examine and analyze the culture they have, imagine and define the culture they want, and implement that culture company wide. It can be done.
I think many of the solutions posited in the NYT article deal with the symptoms more than the problem and are, in fact, more like a band-aid than a cure.
The fact is that in an open, honest, engaged, and appreciative culture, an abusive or toxic behavior gets recognized immediately and dealt with…there are no cover-ups, rationalizations, nor senior leaders ignoring the problem. This is why sexual harassment cannot exist in a healthy culture. A harasser is “outed” immediately, for no employee fears blowback, retribution, or more harassment, by reporting the incident. Now, will a lot toxic employees in the business world have to go? You bet they will…and the employees remaining will be joyful and delighted to see them go. Does anyone miss Harvey Weinstein? I’ll go out on a limb here and say not a chance!
There are many levels at which harassment, when allowed to go on, is a destructive force in American business. The Weinstein Company just filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the scandal, and they won’t be the only one.
But there is the human side of harassment…the inequity, unfairness, the personal devastation, and gut level offensive reality when one person takes advantage of another in the very worst way.
So, I would propose this…any company that is serious about addressing this issue has to look beyond traditional training and sensitivity classes. The seamy underbelly of sexual harassment in American companies exists because it has been allowed to thrive in unhealthy and abusive company cultures. Change the culture, create an environment of honesty, joy, and trust, and this problem becomes an embarrassing footnote in American business history. This has gone on far too long, with far too many powerful people doing it…and covering it up. Create a culture where neither harassment nor cover up can happen…from a call center to the CEO…it will not be tolerated.
I fervently believe this is the ultimate answer to recognizing the phrases #MeToo, and #TimesUp as incredibly important movements of today…but not of the future. Come on Corporate America…we are better than this…we have the power to do away with this abhorrent and offensive behavior. Enough talk…let’s do it…let’s create joy, trust, respect, and dignity in American Business Culture.
Dennis Ford, President of Quantum Leap Productions and Author of “Monetize Your Culture-Create a Passionate, Committed Workforce that Actually Increases Your Bottom Line”.