What to do when an employee reports sexual harassment – Daena Giardella

Daena Giardella, MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer

From Quartz

We know from the 2016 EEOC report on harassment in the workplace and other studies that between 25% and 85% of women, and between 11% and16% of men, say that they have experienced sexual harassment.

That means that, if you’re a manager, it’s very likely that you’ll encounter a sexual harassment situation at some point in your career. You may learn about it anecdotally, or it might arrive at your desk as a formal report or notification from HR or elsewhere.

How you react can determine whether you’re able to build open teams that encourage everyone to have a voice. Here are important steps you should take:

Know the process. It is your responsibility to know your organizational policies, protocols, and investigatory processes as well as what you would need to do. If these procedures are unclear, you should take initiative now to make changes to clarify them. Keep in mind that multiple report pathways and strict protocols are crucial.

Avoid the allure of denial. Learn to take stories about sexual harassment in your organization seriously. Be careful about snap assessments that a certain story or comment is “not a big deal,” or not “worthy” of being further investigated.

Look for your own blind spots as well as those of employees. For example, leaders must not allow their need or reverence for the valuable expertise of a longtime employee to blind them to the employee’s problematic traits or abusive behavior. Don’t overlook behaviors that subvert team psychological safety or undermine strong organizational culture because you value someone’s professional achievements.

Acknowledge the risk of speaking up. Be sure you convey that you understand how emotionally and professionally risky it is for someone to step forward and speak up about these matters. Practice empathic listening. Affirm the courage it takes to speak up, while avoiding taking sides.

Avoid judgment. Remember that all parties in an incident deserve to be heard without a rush to judgment in any direction.

Make it clear that an investigation will need to be conducted—one that is prompt, confidential, thorough, independent, and fair.

Read the full post at Quartz.

Daena Giardella is a Senior Lecturer in the MIT Leadership Center at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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