Now that Harvey Weinstein has been fired from his production company for years of alleged sexual harassment, some in the entertainment industry–as well as recipients of Weinstein’s campaign donations like Hillary Clinton and the Obamas–have stepped up to condemn his reported behavior.
But plenty of others still haven’t, and Gartner HR Practice Leader Brian Kropp says the pressure is mounting for that to change. As he sees it, more CEOs–including those with no connections to Weinstein or the movie business–will be forced to take stands on social and political issues, including sexual harassment, that they haven’t had to publicly weigh in on before.
Looking ahead to 2018, Kropp predicts dysfunction will remain in Washington, D.C., even while hot-button topics like gender equality and diversity in the workplace keep pushing to the fore. “While some CEOs have developed their voice when it comes to the news of the day,” he expects, “others will feel pressure from customers, employees, and investors to be more vocal on their beliefs and commitments.”
But executives aren’t the only ones who may be compelled to address these issues with customers and the public. Employees might also expect their managers to weigh in–not just on the Weinstein scandal in particular but the multiplying stories of sexual harassment emerging from Silicon Valley in general. Here are a few ways experts suggest using these troubling news accounts to have difficult but important conversations in the workplace and to reassert values in a charged cultural climate.
1. Set Expectations That Apply To Everyone
Jessica Stielau, founder and CEO at recruitment platform The Sourcery, says leaders can start by reemphasizing that everyone deserves the same level of respect in an organization: “Just because someone is higher up on the management chain does not afford them special privileges to be a jerk.” This can range from harassment to microaggressions. For example, she says, if it’s not okay for a subordinate to arrive late for a meeting with their manager, it’s just as disrespectful for a manager to waste their team member’s time. Baseline expectations can help hold everyone accountable to the same good behavior.
2. Make A Policy Statement
Heather Monahan, a 20-year sales and marketing veteran who has experienced sexual harassment herself, suggests that leaders see the latest headlines as a chance to convey protocol and boost awareness of these issues. Now’s the time, she says, to “[make] a statement that clarifies the company stance on harassment or bullying of any kind. Allow this to be a moment to declare a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or bullying in the workplace.”
3. Do A Listening Tour
Pennell Locey, vice president of Keystone Associates, a leadership development firm, agrees it’s important to reinforce policies in times like these, when employees are looking to their leaders for signals of their organizations’ stance. “But in order to open up a two-way communication that could surface issues that leaders may not be aware of,” Locey says, “it can be useful to follow the basic response with some listening tours.”
Locey believes this can help leaders tap into employees’ thinking about diversity and equality at work. “Isms”–sexism, racism, and so forth–tend to get minimized in small discussion groups, informal conversations, in the cafeteria, or with work groups, Locey points out. So it can take one-on-one conversations to really uncover employees’ ideas and concerns. She adds that making connections with employee affinity groups is another smart move for leaders looking to take the pulse of their workforces.
4. Empower Employee Watchdogs
Stielau, from The Sourcery, says leaders shouldn’t just blast out any company statements or announce policy changes. They need to gauge opinions from team members at all different levels in the process. “Nothing helps build trust and buy-in like asking for–and valuing–people’s opinions,” she points out.
Interpersonal conflicts are just about inevitable, and it takes more than one person at the top to manage them. To do that, Stielau suggests asking employees to serve as informal whistle-blowers who can spot any disputes brewing, then call in the right mediators. “By building a strong office culture where employees are empowered to police that culture, you’re able to catch things early,” she observes.
It’s not about asking employees to tattle on one another, though, Stielau continues. “People who make a workplace feel unsafe start with small transgressions that get bigger over time,” she explains. “You might not be able to be everywhere in your organization, but the culture you create is.”