The #MeToo movement has empowered women and men to speak out about their personal experiences with sexual harassment in and around the workplace. People may choose to speak out in various ways—for example, by reporting a formal complaint to their employer, sharing their allegations on social media, or making other public disclosures. The discussions—and sometimes very public statements—about inappropriate conduct, sexual harassment, or even sexual assault have shined a spotlight on the pervasiveness of the issue across multiple industries. The impact of these #MeToo allegations, resignations, and public discourse should prompt companies to reexamine their processes for handling complaints and allegations.
Take a Proactive Approach
Your organization should evaluate and consider ways you can implement procedures for not only responding quickly and efficiently to allegations of misconduct but also fostering an inclusive environment for your workforce. Here are six steps that you can take to help your company adapt in the #MeToo era:
- Review and revise your handbooks, policies, and compliance programs to ensure they are updated. Include strong antiharassment and antiretaliation language and a clearly articulated grievance or complaint procedure for aggrieved employees to follow.
- Train all employees and HR professionals on your grievance or complaint procedure to ensure that everyone understands how to make a complaint, whom they should complain to, and what to do once a complaint is made. The training should also include sessions that address what constitutes harassment, misconduct, and assault; who can be responsible for engaging in misconduct; and how to mitigate and deal with allegations of inappropriate behavior. Consider training programs that reflect actual employment scenarios and are delivered by leaders who are respected within the company.
- Evaluate how your company has handled sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault allegations in the past, and conduct new objective reviews and investigations of old misconduct when necessary. Use what you learn to improve your investigation process.
- Create a response action plan to implement if your company is faced with publicly disseminated allegations of misconduct that weren’t raised through your internal complaint procedures. Your action plan should include messaging through your leadership team, appropriate small group meetings with employees, and services for affected employees. It could also include engaging outside consultants such as crisis managers and a public relations firm, depending on the nature of the allegations.
- Conduct proactive compliance reviews and audits, and analyze your internal disciplinary procedures to see where you can implement positive changes. As part of this process, survey employees on your company’s internal complaint procedures to determine if there’s pervasive dissatisfaction. If there is, consider enlisting employees’ help to make enhancements.
- Implement initiatives that can help advance gender parity in your company through equal pay, jobs, and leadership. Examine your employment data to see if disparities exist, and establish a process to address any inequities. Consider conducting a comprehensive audit or assessment.
The #MeToo movement has spawned a new landscape of widespread public scrutiny and a demand for sweeping change in the United States. Companies of all sizes should proactively evaluate the ways they can promote safety and equality in the workplace. Innovative, values-driven approaches will make an especially positive impact.