In the workplace, belonging means that everyone feels valued and safe while completing the duties they are hired to accomplish. Unfortunately, all people aren’t afforded the uplifting work environment promoted by DICE.
Sexual harassment is an important issue to bring up - here and in all the places it occurs. Here are a few thoughts to jump start your discussions.
What a topic. Even as a business consultant, with years of experience helping organizations tackle tough issues, it’s hard to know where to start. So, I’ll start at the end.
In a perfect world, one where DICE and companies like us are a distant memory, every person goes to work and feels good about their time there.
No one uses their position or power to manipulate or coerce anyone to behave in a way that diminishes them. People are spoken to and treated in a way that makes them feel valued and respected. Sexual remarks and actions are understood to cause harm and are eradicated from places in which they are inappropriate and unwanted. Each person takes personal responsibility for their actions and how those actions affect others, and they work to empower the people around them to speak up when necessary.
Now the question is: how do we get to this perfectly DICEy work environment?
The first step is to create a baseline. In my discussions on sexual harassment, I find that while most people want to do the right thing, they struggle to confidently identify which behaviors are acceptable (or not) within a workplace. That’s not a surprise. The line in the sand for sexual harassment is a moving target depending on who you ask, so organizations are responsible for setting guidelines that best shield their employees from mistreatment.
Leaders must remove any doubt from employees’ minds about what is and what isn't considered sexual harassment according to the organization.
Use an inclusive process to involve a wide array of employees in developing boundaries and guidelines that reflect your workforce and their needs. Increasing the diversity of those contributing to this process ensures that groups come up with the best solutions. In fact, diverse groups make and implement better decisions 87 percent of the time. Including all interested employees in the process to develop company policy also has another huge benefit - you gain buy-in on this initiative from the very beginning. Leaders understand the uphill battle that often comes with trying to sell new policies and procedures. Change, even when it’s beneficial, always faces resistance. Give employees a part in the decision-making process to reduce this opposition.
Now that your employees have developed their collective line in the sand, they must feel empowered to stand firm in implementing and enforcing those guidelines. Provide training in various ways so that employees approach learning through numerous methods. Studies show that increasing the types of training - to include online webinars, in-person lectures, group discussions - improve understanding and retention. Bad behavior can’t be ignored or downplayed. Set up a mechanism for correcting any behavior that doesn’t reflect company values. Employees must trust that their work environment will be free from retaliation and that speaking up will be viewed positively as a way to improve the workplace for everyone.
If your organization has gotten this far, you’ve taken major steps to creating a culture of respect and belonging in your company. And culture, more than strategy, will determine your organization’s success. The way to maintain a happy workplace is to continue adapting to the needs of a changing workforce. Make a point to periodically check in with employees to ensure that the guidelines still create a place where Monday mornings feel good.
This Create-Engage-Empower-Repeat process is an integral part of the DICE model and the way we structure lasting change within organizations. We stand by it, and if you follow this method, your company can stand up to mistreatment of your most important asset - your people.
This topic is very personal to me. I was born blessed with a healthy, yet very developed figure, so I grew up trying to cover and hide myself to escape the eyes, whistles, and unwanted touches of men. As disturbing as my experiences had been in school, I had hoped the bad behavior would not follow me into the workplace, but I was wrong.
If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that sexual harassment is everywhere. So now that we find ourselves brave enough to tell our story, the greater obstacle becomes how do we become brave enough to speak up before it happens and while it’s happening? Queue the doors. Enters DICE.
The conspiracy DICE finds with many topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion is silence.
A culture of silence can produce a culture of complacency when it comes to tolerating harassing behavior. Whether a harasser is creating a toxic workplace or pitching quid pro quo arrangements, seeking to trade career advancement opportunities for sexual favors, there are red flags. Usually plenty of them. Unfortunately, harassers are often protected by a culture of inaction.
Research points to three top reasons why we remain silent about sexual harassment: (1) fear of retaliation, (2) the so-called bystander effect, and (3) the influence and pressure of a male-dominated culture. Many of us grapple with how we respond to behavior that we feel is inappropriate and/or unwanted.
Here’s a few more reasons why we might not intervene when we see it:
- We’re unable to recognize harassment. We need to be able to recognize sexual harassment when it is happening. A significant proportion of the population adheres to a range of problematic beliefs and stereotypes about the role of men and women, so it is questionable whether many people recognize incidents of harassment when they occur.
- We’re afraid of the repercussions. Even if we recognize harassment occurring, we may not know what to do or lack the confidence to intervene effectively. We fear social embarrassment, breaching social norms, and the (real or perceived) negative consequences of speaking up.
- We’re hoping someone else will address it. Diffusion of responsibility is perhaps the most commonly documented barrier. It is the “can’t someone else do it?” type of bystander intervention.
If there are many witnesses to an act of harassment, it can be unclear who should step in. Onlookers may simply assume that someone else will take action.
The time is not only up, the time is now! Here’s some DICE advice to empower you to empower others:
- Prepare yourself on what to say when someone approaches you inappropriately or behaves in an inappropriate manner. This is a must! Confidence and feeling empowered to stand up for yourself are key. Check out this resource for sharpening up your ‘straightforwardness’ – Beginner’s Guide to Being Blunt.
- It’s important to understand your boundaries and remember, “it’s okay not to be okay.” If your boundary has been crossed, speak up and put people on notice. In many cases, people are simply unaware that their actions are having a negative impact. Help direct them in the right direction.
- Identify inappropriate behavior immediately and act quickly to notify someone that behavior like that is unwanted and not acceptable. This is vital to stopping harassment in its track. HollaBack! has great tools and training for bystander intervention.
- Come up with a list of questions or a framework to discuss this amongst your peers, colleagues, and family members. Role-playing can also be very transformative. Come up with a few scenarios to act out (there’s plenty of examples, unfortunately); a different person playsthe role of the harasser, the person being harassed, and an observer.
We acknowledged that more work needs to be done (and we are well on our way), but we have an opportunity right now to be part of the change. We have to have the courage to tell people when their behavior or the way they talk makes us uncomfortable.