This fall, the flood of sexual harassment allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein gave women new confidence to publicly denounce sexual harassment by powerful leaders—not just in Hollywood but in workplaces across the country. The movement spawned a popular Twitter hashtag, #MeToo, that millions of women in 85 countries have used to speak out against alleged harassers.
Now’s the time for HR to ask: Is your organization vulnerable to a bombshell complaint? What’s the status of your anti-harassment training—are you just going through the motions? How about your complaint procedures and response planning?
The truth is, Weinstein’s fall isn’t unique. Over the past five years, 5.3% of CEOs globally have been forcibly removed due to ethical lapses, including harassment, according to a PricewaterhouseCooopers study. In the United States, that’s a 102% increase from the previous five years.
Experts say the #MeToo movement will bring more harassment victims out of the shadows. While the EEOC receives about 30,000 harassment complaints each year, it estimates that only “6% to 13% of individuals who experience harassment file a formal complaint.”
How should you respond? Here are four tips:
1. Rethink your training. The main reason most harassment training fails is that both staff and managers see it as a corporate check-the-box exercise aimed at limiting liability. Make clear—in your training, communications and modeling by leaders—that yours is a culture of equality and hands-off respect. Tip: Swap your online training video for face-to-face role playing that truly explains what kind of behavior is tolerated.
2. Provide multiple avenues to report harassment. Many companies fall down when it comes to giving employees several different ways to voice complaints. (Examples: Notify HR, contact a designated senior exec or call a third-party hotline.) Remember, an employee who is being harassed by her boss is unlikely to file a complaint if your policy requires people to talk to their supervisor.
3. Don’t pull punches with a CEO or top exec. Explain the complaint, but also discuss your exec’s actions in light of protecting the organization from an expensive lawsuit. Courts will likely hold your top brass to a higher standard. If you know what’s going on and fail to stop it, you’re opening the organization—and possibly yourself—to corporate (and even personal) liability.
4. Enlist the help of outside investigators and counsel. They will be able to better handle the investigation, explain the legal risks and give you guidance on how to proceed.