Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer. These are just a few celebrity names that we have been hearing lately in connection with sexual misconduct allegations. The list has grown exponentially and it looks like it might still be growing. Are women, children, and employees in general safe from sexual harassment or assault? Are employers and celebrities safe from sexual misconduct allegations? What impact do these occurrences have on employers? If you are an employer what if anything can you do to protect your employees and your company, and maybe even the public? Can we all learn something from the frenzy of accusations? Yes, I believe we can. Let’s talk about that some more. Read on..
(image from consequencesofsound.net)
First, what do all of those accused have in common? I know what you’re probably thinking: “Duh, this is a no-brainer. Why do you even need to ask? Have you gone off your rocker for good?” OK, just bear with me here. (I may be off my rocker, but not for the reasons you’re thinking, in any case.) Yes, I know they’re all men. Yes, I know they’ve all been accused of sexual misconduct. Yes, I know that many of those allegations span many years, and in some cases decades. I’m looking for something more specific, though. Yes, they’re all either in Hollywood or the media. Now we’re getting a bit closer, but I’m going for something even more specific. Here it is: They are all people who held tremendous amounts of power, in many cases were revered (if not feared) in their industries and they all made their companies a lot of money. Should this matter? No. Did it matter? Unfortunately, yes. That in my opinion is the problem, but bear with me, I will get back to that in a bit.
The allegations, and the specific behaviors alleged, are horrific to say the least. To many they are shocking. We have laws against sexual harassment and assault at work. Most of us in the 21st century are pretty aware of and sensitized toward this issue. Now, with some of these men, the accusations are from decades ago, either before there were laws against sexual harassment, or at least prior to an era when people were even willing to acknowledge that: a) it was an issue; b) it was wrong; and c) people should be held accountable for sexual harassment and assault. While I didn’t mention him, and while those allegations are a bit less recent, Bill Cosby might be one example of that.
To be sure, some if not all of these companies had anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and procedures — and Human Resources departments to handle any such complaints. Yet, even if only half of the allegations we’ve heard are true, the complaints show that the conduct did not just occur, but in many cases was rampant, , even blatant –and, worst of all, tolerated.
I’m not going to list every person in the media or in Hollywood who, to date has been accused of sexual misconduct, or the details of what they are said to have done. That is not because I in any way want to downplay any of it. For one thing, there just isn’t enough time and space. For another, after a while the details start to blend and even sound alike. Besides, I have somewhere else I am going with this piece.
What can you take from these horror stories? Can you make sure your employees are protected? Can you make sure that executives and others with power are not automatically marked targets for accusations? Yes, there is plenty that you can do. There is also plenty that the news networks, other big media companies and Hollywood can do. What can you do? How about starting with the following:
Take all complaints seriously– and yes I mean all complaints, no matter who the accused is. That means even if the accused is the top person in the company or very powerful in the industry. Harvey Weinstein ended up ousted by the board of his own company. If you get a complaint and you brush it aside, either because it sounds bogus to you or because it involves someone very powerful, you risk following in the footsteps of those who employed or worked with Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and the many others who have now joined the ranks, which leads me to my next point:
Act promptly. If you receive a complaint and you drag your feet while responding, the behavior is likely to continue, because the alleged perpetrator(s) might well be getting the message that such conduct is OK. After all, if it wasn’t OK, there would be consequences, right?
Apply those harassment and discrimination policies — to everyone: This is a variant of the first point, but there is another facet to it. Having policies and procedures and even training on them, is not enough. If you either do not apply the policies at all, or you only apply them to some situations, well, you might ultimately get what you deserve.
At the same time, don’t jump to conclusions: If you receive a complaint, investigate it. While pending the investigation you might need to suspend the person accused, don’t fire him or her prior to completing the investigation and documenting the results.
Now, for the final point: Convey commitment from the top down to preventing all types of harassment, discrimination, assault in your workplace, not just through words, or beautifully written policies, but through actions. Show your employees that harassment, assault, discrimination of any kind is subject to appropriate discipline, up to and including termination of employment, and where appropriate, criminal charges. Show your employees, and the public that your company does not tolerate harassment, assault or discrimination of or toward anyone. Less than that often sends the message that you are not serious. NBC, The Weinstein Company, Charlie Rose, Inc., among other employers are now learning that the hard way. Enough said for now. See you next week.
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