“Was she drunk? What was she wearing? What is she trying to gain? Who put her up to it? Did she misunderstand? Probably just wants attention. It’s her word against his. History shows that victims of sexual harassment who speak out have rarely been greeted with trust. Suspicion tends to reign.”
Ashleigh Raper is a reporter who issued a public statement about an incident she alleges took place, involving NSW Opposition Leader, Luke Foley. Her story was met with backlash, rendering her experience of speaking up, debilitating. Ashleigh, and indeed Christine Blasey Ford, are not the only ones who have experienced the backlash of #MeToo and #TimesUp. In 2017, a YouGov poll indicated that the proportion of people who think that women who complain about sexual harassment cause more problems than they solve, had actually grown from 29% to 31%. Similarly, USA Today released stats stating that 51% of Americans claim #MeToo has made it more difficult for men to interact with women at work due to feelings of discomfort and fear.
It is certainly true that there are degrees of severity when it comes to sexual assault and misconduct cases. However, it is essential we respond to each and any incidence of sexual misconduct withthe appropriate consequences for these behaviours; being selective to respond - waiting for 'a major event' - sends the message that minor harassment is fair game and only serves to encourage escalation.
It is your job as a leader to challenge the belief that whistleblowing is disruptive for your organisation. Quite the opposite: catching corruption and malpractice at its grass roots will always safe you time and grief later on. Those brave enough to report are assets to your team and must be rewarded as such.
So is your workplace a ‘see something, say something’ environment, or is there a ‘head in the sand’ culture? We’ve identified 3 quick and effective tips leadership can take on board to ensure their people feel safe to stand up and speak out against workplace harassment and misconduct.
Introduce dialogue sessions:
Through careful workshop design and mindful facilitation, leaders learn how to communicate effectively in these complex and challenging times. The result is enhanced human connection and employee participation, strengthened internal relationships and improved understanding, group ownership and commitment. Depending on the goal of the meeting, you need to ensure you have the right people to take on the facilitator role. Do you need to bring in a professional facilitator with the right skill sets and experience? Don’t assume just anyone can do this!
Introduce responsible leadership training
Responsible leadership training aligns leaders to what drives them and improves their understanding of the impact of their behaviour on others. The benefits of this training don't stop at renewed productivity and empowerment at the C-Suite level, but instead trickle down into higher staff morale, lower employee churn, improved work ethic and better use of financial resources across the entire organisation. All these go to improving the organisation’s bottom line. When leaders sincerely prioritise inclusivity, not only do they create the conditions for equality, but they also reap the considerable benefits of greater trust, engagement and innovation of their people.
Recognise when you're stuck - and then get unstuck together
Bottleneck situations - where the flow of communication doesn't travel upwards - are all too common in organisations. This leaves leadership deaf and blind to the goings on in their own organisation and therefore unable to make properly informed decisions - particularly those related to dysfunctional behaviour and practices. It’s a paradoxical situation, with leaders themselves inadvertently create the very culture that cuts them off from the information they need to create positive change. So what is one to do? We’ve found that practising listening skills – from running internal dialogues, to hosting regular meetings to engaging frequently in face-to-face interactions, is key to understanding the unique challenges of each employee from the employee themselves. But remember, this only works when leadership takes the time to include employees in tackling these challenges. When this is done in earnest, systemic and immediate positive change is possible.