#MeToo has been a powerful and courageous statement by victims of sexually harassing males. “What’s Next?” is now the question. It’s not as though no attention has been paid to sexual harassment in organizations, but whatever counter-measures have been attempted, they have obviously fallen short. I have two modest suggestions that might improve things.
My first suggestion is to challenge and mobilize the women and men of a given organization to draft the guidelines for communication and interaction in their organization. No one wants to be buried in pages upon pages of litigious distinctions but there must be some guidelines for how we greet and speak to one another, refer to one another, and what kind of dress, jokes, photos, and other materials are inappropriate and unacceptable in our organization internally — and in our relations with others. Of course, we would be wise to learn from other organizations and from “experts” and trainers, but I would caution against simply importing or copying the guidelines of others. If you put that responsibility on your own people you get their expertise and cultural contextualization, and you get their ownership.
My second suggestion is to add a proactive culture-building strategy to the agenda. “Stomp out sexual harassment” needs to be our immediate move. But “build a team culture of respect” really needs to go with it. Sexual harassment problems mostly originate not in a lack of rules but in defects in the character of individuals and the culture of the company. It is critical to hire and evaluate people not just for their technical job performance but for their character and values. Are they team players who think “we” and not just “me”? Have they had women bosses before? How did that go — and feel? This is the individual character issue. “Get the right people on the bus” as Jim Collins advised in his Good to Great. Get the wrong people off the bus.
And in addition to hiring individuals for character, spend time reinforcing the corporate mission and cultural values. If “Respect” and “Teamwork” are not highlighted as core values, add them. Engage the whole workforce in lively discussion of what these core values mean. Make sure that these values are practiced at all levels of the organization. Make sure the way meetings are conducted shows “respect.” Make sure the informal banter and behavior during and outside office hours says “everyone here is respected and valued and they deserve it.” Fire people who show disrespect to women or to any employee, customer, or even competitor. Building the culture this way will reap the benefits of more successful operations, more joy and fulfillment in the workplace, and maybe eliminating most cases of sexual harassment.
By David W. Gill