Stopping Harassment in its Tracks

Merilyn Speiser , 15 December 2017

How does your practice address sexual harassment at work? Merilyn Speiser from Catalina Consultants offers a 10-step plan to keep your business harassment-free.

The horrific stories that have emerged around Harvey Weinstein have certainly got people talking more openly about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. The #MeToo campaign has also struck a chord with many, as personal stories of sexual harassment are shared online. The general impression seems to be that people are better informed and things are changing for the better. But are they really?

UnionsACT recently conducted a survey among the most vulnerable sector of the Australian workforce – our young workers. The survey revealed that a disturbing 70 percent of the respondents experienced some form of bullying and harassment on the job. The survey also underpinned the reason why only a fraction of these incidents are reported – the fear of losing their job.  

What is sexual harassment? 

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission defines sexual harassment in the workplace as follows:

“Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can be physical, verbal or written.

Sexual harassment is covered in the workplace when it happens at work, at work-related events, between people sharing the same workplace and between colleagues outside work.”

How to prevent harassment in your practice

The most effective weapon against harassment and bullying is prevention. Leaders need to provide clear guidelines, training, unwavering enforcement of rules, and lead by example from the start. There are countless examples of how these factors can keep a workplace safe and free from this type of harassment.

But a business is asking for trouble if it allows a culture of lewd jokes and sexist behaviour, and turns a blind eye to inappropriate conversations. The best policies and training in the world will not protect your organisation if bad behaviour is not called out as and when it happens.

So, what should you do to keep your business harassment-free?

10 steps you can take

  1. Ensure you have strong policies and make sure all employees are trained to understand what harassment and bullying behaviour looks like. (See the ACA Code of Conduct template.)
  2. Ensure the procedure for reporting harassment is clear and ensure your workplace culture encourages employees to report this kind of behaviour in a safe and confidential way.
  3. Make sure you have several options to report harassment and nominate several ‘go-to’ people of both genders.
  4. Eliminate any discriminatory jokes or conversations at all levels of your company.
  5. Discipline people who engage in inappropriate behaviour before it escalates.
  6. If you think a person may be harassed, encourage them to speak up.
  7. Map out clear protocols for responding to harassment, including how you will handle confidentiality.
  8. When a complaint is made, investigate and deal with the situation immediately.
  9. Make it clear that no level of management is exempt from complying with the policy.
  10. Train all your employees at the start of their employment and provide frequent refresher training.

While most businesses may not have the same high profile as the Weinstein company, the challenges surrounding this case could easily arise in any business. Following these steps will be your best defence against any predators lurking in your workplace. Above all, remember that the tone at the top is the most influential and effective way of ensuring there is zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour.

Further information

The Human Rights Commission has extensive research and resources on sexual harassment for employers and employees. This includes the document Ending Workplace Sexual Harassment: A resource for small, medium and large employers, which can be downloaded at no cost from the commssion’s website.

Merilyn Speiser is founder and Principal Consultant at Catalina Consultants. She has over 20 years’ experience in the development of business strategies, leadership development, people and performance management and succession planning.

This article is co-published with Parlour: Women, Equity, Architecture.