Many enterprises have—and all should have—policies that outline what happens when sexual harassment complaints are made in the workplace. It's critical that managers understand their responsibilities regarding handling complaints, investigating allegations and protecting workers from retaliation. But what about before a complaint is made? Is sexual harassment beyond managers' control, or can you take steps to prevent it?
Here are some points to consider:
Set the proper tone. As a manager, you have to be more consistently professional than your team members likely will be. Even if you personally think an off-color joke or picture or reference is inoffensive, you need to make clear that such things are usually inappropriate in the workplace. It's tricky, but you can do this with good humor rather than coming across as an uptight scold. It's especially important not to mock or trivialize your enterprise's policies—"I don't care, but the suits upstairs want me to say that isn't OK"—in order to soften your efforts to set the proper tone.
Know how your team members relate. You already know who gets along and who doesn't, whose personality is more reserved, whose emotional intelligence isn't so refined. It's important that your team members know that you understand and care how they relate to one another. This will make potential harassers think twice about what they can get away with under your nose, and potential victims will be more confident that they'll have your support if an issue arises.
Break down gender barriers. It's important to remember that sexual harassment isn't only perpetrated by men against women. But usually it is, and obviously a workplace where men and women are basically separate and unequal poses more risks. Leaving aside the question of gender diversity in specific jobs and roles—though that's important—make sure you're creating and encouraging opportunities for men and women to work together as equal partners. A workplace where women have opportunities and social power is one where they're less likely to be seen as easy victims for harassment.
If you feel yourself getting angry in a business setting where this would be a problem, the simplest thing to do is often just to leave. A quick exit may be rude, but it's easier for everyone to get over than an angry outburst, with fewer pieces to pick up later. Leaving may send a message that you're dissatisfied, giving you an opportunity to later talk about that, rather than about how angry you got.
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