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A Director’s Role in Mitigating Harassment Risk

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on SCCE’s Compliance and Ethics Professional January 2018 magazine. 

The sexual harassment allegations are coming so quickly these days— from all corners, all industries, the public, and private sector—that it seems like hashtags or names are barely beginning to trend before they are replaced with the next offender. There is no indication that the flood of stories will end, and that means it can be hard to step back and try to look clearly at what happened instead of focusing on each new set of details.

This column is not the place to focus on individual behavior, although I do hope that you are each asking yourselves that in your own contexts. Instead, let’s look at the systems in place and ask: How do we address this? I’m not pretending to have the answers, but here are some of the questions I’m asking of the organizations I work with:

  • System-wise, is the information that is available being compiled and looked at holistically? Or does your organization, like many, segment HR-related claims in one database and compliance- related ones in another, with no way to cross-reference?
  • Are you measuring your culture? Are you looking at where people indicate they can speak up and where they don’t?
  • Have you looked at exit patterns, promotion patterns, and other indications that something might be going on? Do you have data on whether women and minorities are leaving, being promoted, or fired at comparable rates to their counterparts?
  • How are you training your managers? Does that training include their role in creating a work environment where people feel comfortable? In other words, do managers understand that they must speak up about and against harassment, not simply treat employees well themselves? Are you modeling tone, especially for new managers who might be uncomfortable managing people who were their peers?
  • What policies do you have in place to ensure that top performers will not be shielded from discipline? Many recent incidents indicate that people around the accused knew of their misbehavior but considered them too “valuable” to their business.
  • As a director, what are the policies for bringing forward issues related to your senior executives? Take a lesson from the Fox/Roger Ailes situation (how long ago that seems now) and examine how you would know when there might be an issue with your senior team.

We need to move beyond asking the questions to making change, but asking the questions is a start. And if there are other questions to ask, please share them broadly. Let’s all ask them.

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