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4 Steps To Creating a Zero Tolerance Policy on Harassment

Debbie Madden
Dec 27, 2018

Harassment has been all over the news the past couple of years. That means we all know what not to do and can stop making a big deal out of it in our workplaces, right?

Unfortunately, no.

A survey from January 2018 found that 81 percent of women had been sexually harassed in some way over their lifetimes. 38 percent of those women reported having been sexually harassed at work.

Those are big numbers, and they reflect a big problem.

Yet, just because the problem is big, doesn’t mean we can sit idly by. Instead, it’s on each of us to do our part to create safe and inclusive work environments. And it starts with creating a zero tolerance policy on harassment that your team can adopt with ease. Here’s how.

Define Harassment

One of the critical pieces to hiring a more diverse workforce is showing that you value the integrity of each person and will advocate for and protect that integrity. Part of this is taking a zero-tolerance approach to harassment. Simply put, no one wants to work in a place where she or he feels uncomfortable or threatened.

The first step to creating a safe environment is defining and writing down what qualifies as harassment in your company. Create a definition of harassment and a code of conduct. When writing or reviewing your code of conduct, you should consider both blatant and subtle forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, antisemitism, and other types of bigotry, discrimination, and bias. If your company already has a definition of harassment and a code of conduct, review it annually.

It’s important to have a lawyer review your harassment definition and code of conducts.

Communicate With Your Team

Reiterate to your team that creating an atmosphere of zero tolerance for harassment is a two-way street. Company leadership can do its best to make the workplace a safe environment for everyone there, but if there’s a problem that managers aren’t aware of, they won’t know to take steps to address it. No one’s a mind reader. It’s incumbent upon employees to bring to light any issues they’re experiencing so action can be taken. Likewise, it’s incumbent upon leadership to take all issues seriously and commit to investigating the problem.

Timely Due Diligence

Taking accusations seriously means conducting due diligence with each instance in a timely manner. Remember that everyone in a position of authority is responsible and potentially liable, not just members of the executive team.

When conducting due diligence, it’s a good idea to get someone from your HR or leadership team involved from the beginning. You are seeking data. Generalities are not sufficient here. Ask the person raising the issue to explain what happened in plain language without interpreting the cause or outcome, and document everything clearly. Remember that part of taking accusations seriously means doing the due diligence to hear from both sides. Follow your lawyer’s advice on how to proceed after reporting an incident. If you don’t have a lawyer, consult your HR team, and in both cases, consult a third-party opinion if you don’t feel the situation’s being appropriately addressed.

Iterate

Creating a zero-tolerance environment takes patience, diligence, and time, but it’s an essential component of hiring and retaining a diverse workforce — one that’s worth the effort. Remember that, as a leader, you set the example. If you take harassment and bias seriously, so will your employees.

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"Debbie Madden has cracked the code on hiring and retaining women. This book is a must-read for anyone serious about diversity and inclusion." —Verne Harnish, Founder of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0)
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