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March 06, 2018 Tuesday 03:47:13 PM IST



A tidal wave of sexual harassment claims is crashing on the shores of all of our establishments. The atmosphere was vitiated by what many commentators have described as the misogynistic 2016 presidential political campaign in the United States and the bragged about sexual ‘conquests’, followed by the recent reverberations from the echelons of Fox News, Uber, and Silicon Valley enterprises.


Then a tsunami hit, ushered in by disclosures about Harvey Weinstein— a celebrated American film producer who co-founded Miramax Films and The Weinstein Company— and the subsequent #MeToo movement that exposed the omnipresence of sexual harassment in every field: from outand- out rape, to grabbing ‘private lady parts’, to unsolicited sexual advances, to sexual innuendos.


Increasingly, individuals from across industries are coming forward to share their stories of harassment and abuse. A 2016 report published by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an American federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, states that as many as a whopping 90 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. With no industry being safe, the damage is pervasive and the menace has ermeated our work culture as a whole.


In future, leaders will be forced to give C-suite priority to protection against sexual harassment at workplace. According to a new research done by Next Concept Human Resource Association and Waggl, nearly 9 in 10 employees think they will. This trend is evident from the recent happenings in the corporate world. In October last, Roy Price resigned as the head of Amazon Studios amid sexual harassment accusations. Soon after, in November, Michael Oreskes, who was head of news at NPR (National Public Radio), also stepped down under similar circumstances.


Harvey Weinstein is now facing a criminal investigation in New York City. Global cab company Uber has fired more than 20 employees in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment made by Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer who published a viral account of sexual harassment and discrimination at the company.


In association with these resignations, leaders have, however, restrained themselves from giving precise statements against sexual harassment to set a standard for employees to follow. There are a number of steps that leaders can adopt to stave off sexual harassment at their workplaces. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling.




According to the recent study published by America’s National Crime Victimization Survey, administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, two in three sexual assaults go unreported. This mostly happens in permissive organisations where employees feel it is risky to report sexual harassment. This might be because they think that their complaints won’t be taken seriously and believe that offenders will face few or no consequences. At Uber, Susan Fowler’s repeated grievances to HR about harassment and exclusion went nowhere. Instead, she was told that no actions would be taken against the offender because he was a top performer. At Fox News, Bill O’Reilly was given another four-year, $30 million a- year contract despite Twentieth Century Fox being aware about these accusations against him.


It is, therefore, the responsibility of the leader to create a work environment where victims feel like they can come forward and speak up without fear or humiliation. That means setting the tone at all managerial levels, and especially at the top, that sexual harassment is unacceptable. Managers must guarantee victims that they have an open-door policy and are committed to talking about any form of harassment if it happens, quickly and openly.




Male-dominated establishments are more likely to have cultures characterised by aggressive and competitive behaviours. Research has shown that in the viewpoint of men with a high tendency to harass, power and sex are closely linked. Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of a series of sexual assaults and cases of harassment, had the power to launch an anonymous actress into superstardom. Justin Caldbeck, the celebrated venture capitalist, who has been alleged of unsolicited and inappropriate advances, was in a position to provide funding to women entrepreneurs. Geoff Marcy of U.C. Berkeley’s astronomy department, who has been alleged of behaving in an inappropriate and sexualised manner with students, had the authority to write recommendation letters to help them get into graduate school.


At its root, sexual harassment is about unequal power distribution among men and women at work and in society at large. In an insightful Harvard Business Review article, the writers reveal that harassment is more common in organisations where men hold most managerial jobs. One way to prevent sexual harassment at work is by hiring and promoting more women. According to research done by Baloonr, about 40 percent of respondents stated that the best way to rectify the issue, for example, in the start-up world, another exceptionally vulnerable place, is to put more women in leadership positions.




Eden King, an associate professor at Rice University, has done extensive research on effective interventions initiated by organisations in cases of sexual harassment. In a BBC article, King stated that the root cause of sexual harassment lies in the core belief that women are inferior to men and men should have power over women. According to King, the process of shifting mindsets doesn’t start within the four walls of the organisation, but during the earliest days of childhood education and development. In a New Yorker report, Arianna Huffington, the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, calls on firms to reconsider their operational and cultural values. This includes eliminating the cult of the ‘top performer’, which allows otherwise undesirable behaviour, and instead building a culture that operates as the organisation’s immune system. The key focus should be on spotting abuse, detecting toxic elements as fast as possible, and then quickly discarding them. Leadership must promote core values that uphold diversity and inclusion, and set a standard for what’s acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.


Business leaders have diverse responsibilities — from ensuring positive financial results for investors to amusing product and service experiences for customers. But their first and foremost duty is to provide their employees with an environment that is safe, fun, exciting, equitable, honest, open, and founded on the essential principles of human decency. All success is derived there from.