How Organizations Should Deal with Sexual Harassment in the Present Times

In recent months, there have been several instances of women across the economic and social groups coming forward with complaints and retelling of the cases of sexual harassment and gender discrimination against authority figures.

For instance, Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood Director and Scriptwriter have found himself in the center of a raging storm where several high profiles and other celebrities and actresses have come forward to report how he sexually harassed them.

In addition, Kevin Spacey, who is also a Hollywood star, has been accused of sexual harassment. Adding to the already raging controversy, some women have published lists of men who are accused of sexual harassment and whose names have been added to the “Hall of Shame”, so to say.

Topping this up was the #MeToo campaign wherein women around the world came forward to report how they too had to face sexual harassment.

Given the flurry of activity and heightened awareness that characterize the present times, there is a need for organizations to deal with gender discrimination and other firms of discrimination proactively.

The operative term here is proactive which means that organizations can no longer afford to put in place policies and procedures to deal with sexual harassment and instead, they must preempt and prevent such discrimination from happening.

In other words, it is not enough for Human Resources (HR) Managers to feel that they have mechanisms in place to deal with sexual harassment and instead, they must take the initiative to stamp out and root out any possible violations proactively.

The reason we are emphasizing the word proactive is that the costs of dealing with sexual harassment are indeed many. When we use the word costs, we do not only mean that there are monetary costs involved, though, that is a real consequence.

Rather we are also talking about the emotional, psychological, motivational, and reputational costs as well.

For instance, the toll that sexual harassment takes on the victim’s psyche has an effect on their performance as well as the performance of others since such employees are clearly demotivated and demoralized which can lead to other unpleasant consequences.

Also, the entire workplace culture is vitiated by the instances of sexual harassment since that creates a hostile and forbidding work environment which leads to other costs for the organizations.

Apart from that, there are reputational costs as well which mean that organizations that are accused of sexual harassment would have to deal with direct monetary and indirect financial costs as all these consequences often loop into each other to create a “Perfect Storm” for the organizations.

Further, when women around the world are fighting back, it is only moral and ethical to hear their voices and not shout them down. This means that organizations can no longer afford to “cover-up” incidents of sexual harassment as well as gender discrimination.

Indeed, with heightened awareness and proactive action by women, such cover-ups would only lead to further costs and damages to the organizations. Moreover in the present technologically mediated and 24/7 culture, it does not take much to spread the word around in a few hours or even minutes which means that HR Managers have a lot on their hands to proactively identify possible perpetrators and move towards a workplace culture that is healthy.

It helps if the organizations have a woman as the head of the sexual harassment committee and preferably if she is also tasked with the anonymous channels that are usually put in place by the organizations.

Indeed, the fact that most women who experience sexual harassment first report them to other women managers makes a case for a dedicated women HR manager to be put in charge of dealing with sexual harassment cases.

Also, proactive action would mean that the HR managers have their “ears to the ground” and find out through anonymous channels about instances of bad behavior that can easily lead to full-blown sexual harassment.

Apart from this, there can be mechanisms in place where the victims feel comfortable reporting sexual harassment without fear of retribution and other forms of “getting back at them”.

The most important aspect would be that organizations can no longer afford to “pay lip service”, but, must also “walk the talk” wherein they practice what they preach and ensure that all the employees right down to the junior most employee feel that the organization is serious about dealing with sexual harassment and punishing the perpetrators instead of a “wink and nod” attitude, where nothing comes out of the investigations, becomes the case.

In other words, it is no longer enough to be “seen doing something” while in reality, nothing happens, and hence, the key aspect here is about actually acting against the perpetrators.

Research has shown that diverse organizations are more productive and hence when organizations make it a point to embrace diversity, they must also respect diversity instead of adopting a pure cold monetary approach.

In other words, while organizations do exist to make profits, it is also the case that they have a duty and responsibility towards the employees who make them what they are and enable the functioning of the organizations.

To conclude, we are at a stage where critical mass has been reached as far as women talking and reporting sexual harassment is concerned and hence, organizations can no longer afford a demoralized workforce and it is in their interest to deal with sexual harassment by embracing the “rainbow” of diversity instead of operating in a Black and White mode.


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