"The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men." - Henry David Thoreau
"Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching." - C.S. Lewis
Since the initial revelations about the revolting behavior of former entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein, the news has been full of high-profile people being accused of and punished for sexual harassment. Many have applauded the recent climate of heightened awareness and enforcement of workplace harassment that has emerged. While I am always for eradicating harassing behaviors from the workplace, as well as, raising awareness about the dangers of these behaviors; the root causes that led some companies to “heighten” harassment prevention activities can’t be ignored. When looked at critically, the so-called 'Weinstein Effect', highlights general failures of workplace harassment prevention efforts. Fact of the matter is, had harassment prevention always been a priority, it would not have taken a precipitating event to cause these companies to start actually enforcing their harassment policies. Further, there would have always been an environment where victims of harassment felt comfortable reporting workplace harassment.
It is apparent that employee at these companies in the news did not trust in Management's ability to impartially investigate all claims, protect the workplace against harassment and equitably punish harassers. Harassment enforcement should not take any factors or influences, unrelated to the case at hand, into consideration. Factors like a person’s organizational position or level of influence should never be considered when deciding whether or not to pursue a claim of harassment or what level of punishment is necessary. Any unequal investigation or enforcement will create an environment that, not only encourages harassing behaviors, but also discourages reporting harassment. Therefore, there must be no special treatment, unwritten rules or special consideration regarding the victim or alleged perpetrator given in a harassment claim.
Further, fairness and equity not only has to be the practice, it must be the known practice. The current revelations of harassment in the news often reveal long-standing harassing behaviors that have gone unreported or reported and hidden/ignored. This lack of proper policy enforcement is absolutely shameful. An effective harassment prevention policy investigates and enforces fairly, without exception, and places the civility and safety of the workplace above all else.
It is a very bad sign if someone has to be brave to report harassment. When deciding whether or not to report harassment, a serious consideration is the potential retaliation one may face for making claim. If unchecked, retaliation can impact the career and/or well-being of someone reporting harassment. Poor harassment prevention policies fail to educate, mitigate and/or punish retaliation. By educating employees about and seriously enforcing a policy of non-retaliation, companies can help create an environment where employees feel safe to report harassment. Many of the once silent victims now coming forward in the high-profile cases playing themselves out in the news, have admitted to being afraid of retaliation or were actually threatened with retaliation and site retaliation as a factor for not stepping forward sooner. Therefore, it is essential that companies take steps to protect all employees from all forms of retaliation because reporting harassment shouldn't require bravery.
The 'Weinstein Effect' highlights the need to create and maintain workplace environments where everyone always feels safe reporting anyone for harassment. The sheer ubiquity of the #metoo campaign shows that there are many that have suffered and continue to suffer harassment. Lack of consistent and fair enforcement and retaliation are two obvious contributing factors. Otherwise, we would not be hearing about people’s 'long history” of harassing behaviors that have heretofore been unreported or reported and ignored, covered-up and/or secretly litigated. While it is great that companies are now properly punishing these harassers, it’s an absolute shame that many have chosen to do so only recently. I would ask -'Where has this level of attention and enforcement been all along?'. Harassment is not a new phenomenon and, if anything, this 'Weinstein Effect' has reveals just how negligent and reckless some companies have been with their workplace harassment policies. The 'Weinstein Effect' will only be worthwhile if the current level of vigilance carries on from this point forward.
In conclusion, have the integrity to consistently protect your workforce from harassing behaviors at all times with an effective harassment prevention policy. Never let public sentiment or any other spurious factor determine how seriously you or your company takes harassment. Actively and intentionally stress workplace harassment prevention. Be unbiased and consistent in how you investigate harassment claims and enforce your harassment prevention policies. Human Resources and Executive Management must work together to create a secure, respectful environment that does not tolerate harassment from anyone at any time; there's no other way to consistently have the confidence of your employees and ensure you never have to 'heighten' your harassment prevention efforts. Harassment is NEVER okay, so don't tolerate it under any circunstances.