Organizations, therefore, must devote as much energy to changing the environment from one where individuals suffer in misery instead of speaking out to one where people who have been the victim of inappropriate sexual conduct feel comfortable coming forward. It will take time, courage, consistency and a clear understanding that those who report harassment won’t suffer harm for speaking out.
Ultimately, leaders at all levels must take on the responsibility of acting in ways that support their organization’s values and commitment to respectful, lawful workplaces. They must, through their own behavior, demonstrate that they welcome the airing of concerns, all concerns, and that there will be no retaliation against people who speak up and speak out. Leadership must also recognize that their inaction in moments of open-secret harassment and unprofessional conduct makes them accomplice to the persistence of the problem.
Paying attention to reports of misconduct and imposing serious consequences for those who act in a harassing way, no matter their status or position, is the surest way to reforming the culture. These new enduring habits are the first and most critical steps needed by organizations committed to creating and sustaining civil and inclusive workplace cultures.
Stephen Paskoff is president and CEO of ELI Inc., an Atlanta-based training company that helps organizations address bad behavior in the workplace. He is also a former trial attorney for the EEOC.