7 Steps To Taking Back The Workplace

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Peter Myers, P.Eng. MA

The daily stream of reports of sexual assault, harassment and abuse continue to flow not only out of Hollywood but many of our mainstream organizations, highlighting a systemic problem that we are far too complacent about…a willingness to let bullies and mean spirited leaders do what ever they want.

Sexual assault is admittedly taking workplace bullying to it’s limit, but the problem that exists is not the fact that women can’t feel safe and respected in many workplaces. That’s a symptom. The problem is the acceptance of a workplace culture based on bullying, intimidation, coercion and retaliation. You might be able to implement HR policies that will stop, or at least limit, workplace sexual harassment & assault, but that will not create a safe environment where bullies can no longer use position, power and authority to do what they want and get away with it.

If you want to take back the workplace, I recommend using my 7C’s of Accountability as a framework to drive success. They include;

1. Clarity

Many organizations now have values-statements. Be sure to directly include a paragraph on the importance of not making sexual advances in the workplace;

We have a zero tolerance for sexual advances in the workplace. that is to say, we expect our team members to treat each other as competent professionals, not as potential dating partners. Sexual advances include sexual assault, harassment, grabbing, rude or suggestive comments and messages, including unsolicited emails & text messages outside of the workplace.

2. Consequences

A lot of organizations are good at hanging the values statement on the wall, but not so good at enforcing them, primarily because they have never had the conversation of what happens to someone who does violate our values or beliefs. Be sure to develop a process to review violations and ensure that consequences are applied evenly for those who violate the policy, regardless of where they sit on the organization chart;

The penalty for any employee, contractor, partner or supplier to our organization who has been deemed to participate in sexual advances in the workplace will be determined by our No Sexual Advances process and could include termination or loss of contract.

Be sure to update your service contracts to ensure your can actually enforce your consequences on your contractors and suppliers.

3. Communication

Accountability in communication means we have an obligation not only to push a few communications out, but to ensure people have heard, understand and have had their chance to state their concerns. Don’t bully people with a heavy handed top down mandate, get them involved and let them shape the final process.

4. Competency

Don’t assume that Old school managers can’t learn new school ways…but you have to train them to competency. That’s a little different than the traditional top down education model, where we impart wisdom on people then try to hold them accountable. Problem is, imparting wisdom isn’t importing skill. Skill can only be developed over time with support and mentoring.

5. Commitment

If you want to change something, you first must get people to commit to the change. By getting all your team involved in the development of the No Sexual Advances policy, ensuring they have had their say and have been heard is the first step to getting buy-in, but is not the only step.

Once I have the policy in place, I would ask each member to show a public declaration of their commitment by signing it stating that they will uphold the values and be willing to take a stand if they see someone in violation of it.

New recruits should do the same thing during their on boarding process.

6. Collaboration

A strong cohesive team will not tolerate abuses that they have bought into and fought to protect. People who are empowered are more willing to speak up when they see signs of people committing abuse. A comprehensive team development plan should be implemented that integrates the values and messages of a No Sexual Advances policy throughout the team process.

7. Culture

Let’s face it, culture is what got too many organizations into the problems they now face. And without a fundamental shift in culture, any of the above initiatives will be doomed to failure due to a lack of support and enforcement. Many would recommend a purge of senior leadership.

But I know from experience, most senior leaders are willing to change if the new behaviour is going to stick. If the CEO uses their authority to enforce the consequences of the initiative, then 80 – 90% of them will tow the line.

Those 10 – 20% will then need to find work with an organization that still tolerates sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, and thankfully I think there are going to be a lot loss of them around!

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