Can sexual harassment really be stopped? (Spoiler alert……It can!)

Let’s rewind the career of Harvey Weinstein to the 1980s.

Harvey and his brother, Bob, Weinstein were just beginning to make big strides with their company Miramax. At this point Harvey was afforded meetings young, early or pre-career actresses and movie business hopefuls. According to reports from past employees, Harvey became known for calling meetings in his hotel rooms where inappropriate comments and touching would often take place. Administrative employees were required to assist in the set up of these private meetings. Female employees began using the buddy system to avoid showing up at these meetings alone, or wearing parkas and other heavy layers of clothing to avoid being touched.

For these employees, silence was not only encouraged, but was required. This was the beginning of creating the machine that stroked his ego. It’s called SILENCE. If and when an employee decided not to keep quiet, the legal team was immediately called in, a cash settlement was made that was a lot of money for an early career worker who did not want her career ruined, and she would be forced to sign a confidentiality agreement.

How could the Harvey story have had different results?

Imagine if the early employees subjected to inappropriate comments had been empowered to come forward. They felt comfortable telling Harvey that he needed to refrain from using suggestive language in their presence and if it continued, they would simply leave the meeting. When the behavior continued, they knew they could report the incidents to Human Resources and be taken seriously. A respectful investigation process, which had been communicated to them in advance, would be conducted with no retaliation. Harvey would be held accountable for his actions, including steps to ensure that this did not happen again. Repeated behaviors would be subjected to more public scrutiny which could damage Harvey’s reputation as well as that of the company.

What would it have taken to make this possible?

As a society, we would have had to understand the lifelong impact that harassment has on people, both men and women, who are not only victims, but those who are aware of the incidents and are forced to keep quiet. Clear communication would have had to have taken place at every level of the company that sexual and other harassment simply would not be tolerated. Not just once, but often as a matter of general discussion. Employees would have to have been aware of the process to report and begin the investigation process, and that this is their right. A policy of “No retaliation” would have to have been stated and practiced. A respectful investigation process would have had to have been used each and every time for employees to develop trust in the process. Those found guilty of harassment would have to be held accountable.

Business leaders have a choice to make.

Since 1986, when the first three sexual harassment cases were upheld by the courts, followed by the most well-known Anita Hill case in 1991, companies have been taking position to protect themselves from liability in these claims including Employer Professional Liability insurance and periodic anti-harassment training. These measure, while potentially limiting exposure for the companies, have not resulted in prevention. Companies will not be protected until they begin protecting their employees. Employees will not be protected, until steps are taken to change behaviors in the workplace.

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When companies make a conscious choice to start talking openly about harassment, providing training to employees about how to deal with uncomfortable situation, help them find the words to speak up for themselves, promise no retaliation to those who come forward, ensure a respectful investigation process and hold offenders accountable, WE WILL SEE CHANGE.

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Accountability stops sexual harassment in the workplace before it starts.

New tools are being created to help executives and human resources professional make the needed changes.

We have a choice. We can stop harassment. Let’s start now.  There are tools that can help. www.goinvestipro.com.

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