Sexual Harassment! Echoing Resolve the Problems Before They Begin!


In 2013, I wrote an article on the 15th anniversary of the largest sexual harassment settlement in U.S. history. In 1998, Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America paid $34 million to more than 400 female employees and was required to provide mandatory sexual harassment prevention training. As we enter 2018, 20 years after the biggest sexual harassment settlement, sexual harassment is still running rampant in pockets of the workplace across generations and across industries—from allegations against Silent Generation to Millennial men from politics in Washington, DC to the tech industry of Silicon Valley. The Larry Nassar trials and his 265 victims have emphasized the systemic nature of cultures that silences people who have been used as prey and provides fertile ground for predators. Hopefully, what appears to be a watershed event starting with the allegations against Harvey Weinstein will force companies, universities and organizations to prevent a climate that allows quid pro quo and a hostile work environment to flourish and power to go unchecked.  Instead, let this be a new dawn of organizations creating inclusive, harassment free cultures that allow all to contribute to their full potential.

And let’s dispel the myth that one contributor espoused on Fox News that quid pro quo only is able to flourish in glamourous industries, such as entertainment, media or politics, because ‘beautiful’ women would simply walk away if it were a feed store in the middle of nowhere. As a clinical psychologist, I have worked with women who were in low paying jobs, who had been sexually harassed. Many did not simply walk away because they had to put food on the table and feed their children. They could not simply find another job because another job was not readily available.

Power used to make oneself feel good by demeaning another person is an abusive use of power. Sexual harassment is an abuse of power—whether quid pro quo or a hostile work environment. Power is the ability to have impact on self or others. Power is neither good nor bad. To resolve the problem before it begins, you need to have an inclusive culture that develops and rewards servant leaders and not autocrats or fiefdoms with, individual lords of the manor.

While it is important to have procedures in place for reporting, investigating, and resolving sexual harassment complaints, prevention is the best cure. Ford Motor Company had several sexual harassment lawsuits in the 1990s. Ford paid $22 million in settlements and implemented policies and procedures for addressing, investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints. Despite the policies, the procedures, the investigations and the resolutions, over 25 years later, the president and chief executive of Ford, Jim Hackett, issued an open letter on December 21, 2017 stating, “I am sorry for any instance where a colleague was subjected to harassment or discriminatory conduct. On behalf of myself and the employees of Ford Motor Company, who condemn such behavior and regret any harassment as much as I do, I apologize. More importantly, I promise that we will learn from this and we will do better.” So I echo what I wrote five years ago, resolve the problems before they begin.

An inclusive culture engenders respect, belongingness, transparency and integrity. These values are not simply in a written document, but through management behavior. Management’s actions give credibility to the company’s values and policies. If management demonstrates that they want to know what the actual everyday culture and experiences are for all their employees through town halls, hotlines, etc., employees believe that they are respected; that work decisions and transactions are transparent; that employees are treated as valued individuals.  Employees trust that they will be held accountable and rewarded fairly, i.e., they belong; and that integrity permeates the organization.

When integrity is part of the DNA of the organization, employees know that regardless of the person’s rank or ability to be a ‘rain/moneymaker’, everyone in the organization must be respectful, transparent and contribute to a welcoming environment, so all can contribute to their full potential. No one is exempt from or above the explicit company values.

How to best ensure an inclusive culture that employees trust as credible and respectful? Resolve the problems before they begin.

  1. Both traditional leaders and a critical mass of leaders who traditionally have not been in positions of power are needed. A critical mass of women and a critical mass of non-dominant group members are needed to influence and sustain an inclusive culture. To obtain a critical mass, diverse talent needs to be represented on candidate slates; diverse talent needs to be groomed; and diverse talent needs to be seriously considered in the succession plans:
    1. Men and women
    2. Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, American Indian, Mixed Origin/Race, etc.
    3. Cross generational leadership
    4. In-country and ex pats
  2. Nontraditional leaders are needed at the inception of critical strategies, policies and communications.
  3. Leaders must appreciate the power and privilege of the dominant group because unabated power can be costly and prone to bully rule, favoritism, or a hostile environment.
  4. Dominant group leaders and candidates must be open to ideas different from their own, and ensure women and non-dominant group colleagues’ ideas are given serious consideration.
  5. If female and non-dominant group candidates linger in the “ready for advancement in two years” stage for more than three years, reassess the company’s climate.
  6. Management actively listens to diverse perspectives.
  7. Management strives to be aware of their biases and challenges others’ biases.

Leaders dictate the climate. Leaders can cultivate a respectful and trusting environment and elicit employee engagement, synergy and innovation by being credible. Actions/behaviors speak louder than words.

Finally, I applaud the silence breakers that took back their power and who understood that courage is muscling through the fear to speak out. And understanding that speaking out was no guarantee of being believed– that they may have found themselves to be the 21st century ‘Anita Hill’. Hopefully, 2017 will be a watershed. Time will tell. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Policies, procedures, investigations and resolutions are the cure. An inclusive culture is the prevention. May we need not echo this sentiment, in 2023; five years from now.