Post Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and Roy Moore, to name a few, we are having tough — but honest — conversations about the ubiquity of sexual harassment and abuse. It’s clearly time to embrace real reform. One thing that’s plain is that workplaces must have robust anti-harassment policies and practices in place if they are going to avoid incidences of abuse or weather these incidents when they do happen. Here are three things that need to happen to make places of employment safer for everyone.
The first thing is probably the hardest. That is, sexual harassment needs to be discussed during the hiring process. Prospective hires should be told that the organization is committed to creating a workplace that is free of sexual harassment and abuse. Hiring managers should assess the risks of sexual abuse associated with the position being filled, and discuss them with candidates. Applicants for teaching or coaching positions should be asked what they will do to ensure that no boundaries are crossed with students. A small tech start-up, where the expectation is that new employees will need to work late hours on site, should ask applicants how they think sexual harassment can be avoided in such situations. These discussions will help determine whether and how the employee will fit into a workplace culture that is committed to safety, and it’s as important to address these workplace norms as it is a prospective hire’s experience and qualifications.
In my work with organizations, employers show the most resistance to this suggestion. I suspect that’s because it’s hard to talk about sexual harassment. To do so is an acknowledgment that it happens. Until recently, this is something that few people were willing to openly admit. The first step in building an organizational culture in which sexual harassment and abuse are rare is to hire people who understand that safety is a top priority. This applies whether you are hiring a school president or a customer service representative.