Tangible signs of a potentially hostile environment—pin-up calendars, physical touches, suggestive remarks and lewd jokes—may be only the tip of the sexual harassment iceberg. The problem usually runs deeper.
A proactive manager should probe beneath the surface and see if there is a culture conducive to an environment that could quickly breed a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Here are four red-flag areas that you should monitor:
- The “sexual static” in the environment. Is there friction between individuals or groups that seems sex-based? Do complaints or grievances often pit opposing sexes against each other?
- The sexual comfort level. Can colleagues of the opposite sex invite each other out to lunch without launching a “consorting” campaign? Is there a distinct lack of camaraderie between males and females?
- The office gossip quotient. Just how much backbiting and mudslinging goes on in the normal course of a business day? Are there a lot of whispered conversations and averted glances when members of the opposite sex walk by? Does the office rumor mill often grind out sexually oriented figments of people’s imaginations?
- The professional acceptance level. Do males congregate in old-boy networks and freeze out female interlopers? Do females overreact to criticism or act defensively and walk around with chips on their shoulders? Is there a noticeable lack of shared and idea exchanges?
Find a problem? Take action
If you undertake such a measurement project in your own area of responsibility, and uncover festering problems, here are four steps to consider.
- Bombard your employees with sexual harassment material. Get all their antennae raised to the existence of both potential problems and potential solutions.
- Be the lightning rod. Evidence a completely gender-neutral attitude. Exhibit your professional persona equally to both sexes. Get across the idea that you see all fellow workers as just that, not members of the same or opposite sex.
- Work for changes in others’ attitudes. If you ask for altered behavior, don’t accept business as usual. No “boys will be boys” (or vice versa) excuses. You can’t expect overnight changes, but you can monitor daily efforts.
- Work to change your own attitude. For instance, are all your behavior patterns consistent and acceptable? If you are blunt in your criticism of male employees, are you equally hard on females?