How HR Can Stand Behind the #MeToo Movement

Harassment in the workplace has always been a concern for HR professionals, but as the #MeToo movement gained momentum over the past year it has been top-of-mind for all in the industry. HR professionals are striving to create safe workplaces, and now they’re getting assistance from state and local legislators. More than 30 state and local jurisdictions introduced more than 100 pieces of legislation in 2018 that target sexual harassment.

Identifying Harassment in the Workforce

To help your organization comply with the applicable sexual harassment requirements, it’s helpful to first understand what defines this behavior. Harassment is a serious matter that can affect not only the victim but also the workplace. Harassment can be overt or it can be subtle; it might not always be recognizable, and often people don’t know how to handle it when it occurs.

Each incident must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but sexual harassment can include unwanted verbal or physical sexual advances; sexually explicit statements; sexually oriented gestures, noises, remarks, jokes or comments; remarks the recipient feels are offensive or objectionable; sexual or discriminatory displays or publications anywhere in the workplace; and other harassing or hostile conduct that’s directed at recipients because of their sex. In today’s evolving workplace it’s also important to note that there is the potential for an employee to be sexually harassed by a supervisor, a subordinate, another employee, an intern, an independent contractor, a temporary or contract worker, a vendor, a visitor or even a customer.

Protecting Company Morale

Employment-related lawsuits can be very costly, but discrimination charges can cost a company more than money. For instance, loss of productivity and decreased employee morale can afflict the workforce, and consequently the bottom line. An organization may even experience a tarnished public image or reputation in the community or industry in the aftermath of a discrimination lawsuit.

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

Comprehensive training on preventing sexual harassment is imperative in the workplace. In fact, several states have passed mandatory requirements for sexual harassment prevention training. For example, in New York, all employers with one or more employees must provide annual sexual harassment prevention training for every employee working in the state — including part-time, seasonal and temporary employees.

Here are some of the requirements of New York’s law:

  • Initial training must be completed by Oct. 9, 2019.
  • The training must be interactive and be provided in whatever language the employee speaks. Employers can no longer send employees to a corner to watch a video or read a packet.
  • The training must meet minimum standards, including an explanation of sexual harassment consistent with guidance issued by the U.S. Labor Department in consultation with the state’s Division of Human Rights, examples of conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment, the federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment and remedies available to victims of sexual harassment, and employees’ rights of redress and all available forums for adjudicating complaints.

    Encouraging a Harassment-Free Workplace Culture

    It’s crucial for employers to take a proactive approach to preventing harassment in the workplace. And as an HR professional, it’s your responsibility to adopt and implement policies and procedures to prevent and address all types of harassment based on all protected classes. In addition to resources available from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and model materials and other guidance that may be provided by state and local agencies to help employers meet the minimum standard requirements, businesses can turn to an HR outsourcing provider to help them comply with new or existing provisions. Even the most seasoned HR professional will likely have questions regarding the specific components of their state or local requirements.

    This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney in your state. The information in this article may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct or up-to-date.

#WorkTrends Recap: Helping Men Become Allies in the #MeToo Era

In the age of #MeToo, how are we creating equitable workplaces for women?

This week’s #WorkTrends guest, Melissa Lamson, has been working on this cause for years. She is CEO of Lamson Consulting, founder of a popular leadership program for women and has consulted on management for companies like Space X, LinkedIn and SAP.

She shared how men can proactively work to understand how the sexes communicate differently, and how they can work with women to build a more diverse culture at work.

Listen to the full podcast below, or keep reading for highlights from our conversation.

Gender Parity Requires Work from Women and Men

“If men and women don’t work together in organizations, they really won’t achieve gender parity,” Lamson says. “There has been a lot of emphasis on what women need to do to advance their own careers — networking, mentoring, training programs. The onus has been on women to support their own development.” But, she says, women can only go so far in creating more gender balance at the top of organizations. Companies need to enlist men to support this goal.

Most men are happy to contribute when they realize what’s at stake, she says. “I don’t believe that most men intentionally keep women from advancing today, but they don’t know what they necessarily could be doing to help.” So, she’s worked with companies to develop workshops for men. Through those workshops, some men say they realize their KPIs were gender biased, or that they never knew what women on their team wanted. Opening a conversation between women and men in the workplace is a good place to start.

Men Often Don’t Perceive the Problems

Lamson says that the men in her workshops often have no idea that their behavior or language could be perceived as hurtful or even sexist. “When men have a conversation, they will do that in a really competitive way. That’s normal, they’ll challenge each other and interrupt each other. If they do this with women, it’s perceived as being disrespectful and they get labeled as unsupportive.”

But Lamson says that’s not what most men want. “In my experience, men really want to be a hero. In my workshop, men will literally start writing down everything I’m saying. They’ll ask for exact phrases they can use with women to show support. They want to make women happy at work. They want to promote them, they want to work with them on teams and collaborate with them. They just literally don’t understand that there’s an issue.”

But, after her trainings, most men start to understand what their female colleagues are facing at work. They buy into the idea that we’ve all been socialized to see things in certain ways — and we can do some things differently to more effectively collaborate at work.

Understand Different Communication Styles

In her workshops, Lamson teaches about five communication differences between men and women. While everyone is, of course, different, she’s learned that some gender stereotypes often ring true for many groups, and understanding these can help teams learn how to work with one another better. She calls one of these communication differences “Status-First Recognition.”

“The research shows that men seek first and foremost to be seen as the more important and powerful. In contrast, women seek recognition, reward and appreciation. So, they want to be appreciated for a job well done and all the hard work that they’re doing.”

Those different motivations lead to gendered behaviors that can leave us at a mismatch. For example, women will thank men a lot. They’ll say, “Thanks so much, we really appreciate it.” Behind closed doors, women will tell you they’re trying to stroke men’s egos. But that doesn’t actually work with men, Lamson says. They don’t want to be thanked — they want to feel important and powerful.

On the other hand, men will interpret a female coworker’s silence as a non-problem, when resentment could actually be brewing. “Men assume that women are totally fine and feeling good about working with them unless they express that they’re not. That’s not a correct assumption.”

She gives groups this tip: If a man and a woman are talking in a meeting and the woman suddenly gets quiet, a man should notice that and start re-engaging her by asking questions.

“Men aren’t programmed to ask as many questions,” she says. “But if they can pivot and start asking questions, they’ll get the engagement back on track.”

Gender Diversity Drives Business Results

Lamson points to research from McKinsey, Catalyst and others that having more gender balance in an organization, especially at the top, actually affects the bottom line positively.

Catalyst research found that companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams experienced better financial performance than companies with the lowest women’s representation.

But that doesn’t just mean adding one woman to an all-male board. Research shows that when one woman joins a group of men, she’ll adapt her style to theirs. When two women join, there still isn’t a substantial change in the group. But when there are three women, they have the power of a group — and will influence change.