I’m appalled, though unfortunately I guess I’m not really surprised. Amidst all the rhetoric about equality and fair treatment, it turns out there is a lot of inequality and unfair treatment going on. Specifically, ever day now the news brings us another story detailing the sordid details of some new example of sexual harassment in the workplace. We even hear of overt harassment and even physical abuse happening in a large state’s legislature.
Guess what? If you are in any kind of supervisory or management position you are responsible for this if it’s happening on your team.
What’s that you say? You didn’t know? As a boss of mine used to say, that’s interesting but irrelevant: you’re still responsible. Here are some steps you better be taking to be a responsible leader.
- Get to know you’re people. The better you know them the more likely you are to stop these problems early, or better yet, prevent them from happening. That’s because when you know your people, you’ll be more likely to see when something isn’t right. Of course, if you lead larger organizations with multiple teams, you probably can’t know everyone. That’s why you need to…
- Be very clear that you don’t tolerate bad conduct. Be swift in investigating and taking appropriate action when problems arise. Insist that your team leaders take the same approach.
- Cultivate good relations with your HR and legal teams. They know the rules and pitfalls and can provide valuable guidance. But, always remember that you are the leader. You have the ultimate accountability for your team and so you get to make the decision. You get to live with the consequences too, so take the HR and legal advice seriously.
- Be fair. This doesn’t mean treating everyone equally. It does mean giving everyone an equal chance and treating everyone with basic human respect. Seems like that should go without saying.
- Don’t take anyone’s word that something happened. Investigate. Unfortunately, there have been too many cases where a complaint was made in retribution or some other nefarious reason. This can be just as damaging as if something had really happened.
Harassment in any form is toxic and can destroy even the best team. Don’t let that happen. Your response to a verified case should be quick and decisive. Unless a person was raised by wolves, they know what inappropriate touching is. You probably want to show them the door. Other forms of harassment might actually stem from upbringing and family culture. That’s why my second point is so important. You must be very clear what you will not tolerate. If an employee can’t live with that, they can go somewhere else. Remember, you’re not a social worker. If you can help people, great; but rehabilitation is not your job.
This may sound harsh, but that’s okay. Leaders are responsible for teams with all kinds of different people and embracing that diversity can make your team accomplish great things. But, as I said, harassment of any kind is toxic and will destroy your team. Stamp it out now.