A Workplace Culture to Prevent Harassment

One year after the #MeToo movement went viral, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a public meeting to discuss how employers can take concrete steps on how to change their workplace cultures to prevent harassment. Leaders described various approaches giving employers and employees skills needed to respond to harassing behavior. Whether they experience the behavior first-hand, or whether they witness such behavior.

In the final fiscal year of 2018, the EEOC reported a 13.6 percent increase in sexual harassment charges and a 50 percent increase in lawsuits filed alleging sexual harassment. Also, hits on the EEOC’s sexual harassment webpage doubled since the #MeToo movement began a year ago.

Let’s look at a case study in workplace misconduct. On February 20, 2018, Sports Illustrated published an article exposing allegations of sexual harassment at the front office of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. A seven-month investigation ensued. The allegations in the matter primarily related to senior management, including the former president and CEO. The common themes included unwanted sexual advances, creation of a hostile work environment and insufficient and/or no response from Human Resources.

The Mavericks had the policies in place, conducted policy training, and yet an environment of sexual harassment persisted throughout the organization. So, what went wrong? As it turned out, there were two issues that undermined their policies and training—discouraging employees from reporting bad behavior and allowing known behavior to continue without consequence. Obviously, it is not enough to simply create and promulgate policies and procedures. An organization must enforce those policies and procedures, and that enforcement must be consistent across all levels of the business. Additionally, policies and procedures need to be reviewed, updated and most importantly, must contain effective reporting mechanisms that allow for complaints, even against the highest levels of the organization.

At the EEOC’s recent public meeting, Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum, Co-Chair of the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace stated, “Today’s testimony underscores that to really tackle the problem of workplace harassment, we need to change workplace culture, hold people accountable and have the right policies, procedures and training. No one element, alone, will suffice. Instead it takes a holistic effort that must start at the top with strong and committed leadership.”