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Why Does Harassment Require Cooperative Leadership

One expert says men and women must work together to reduce the risk for sexual harassment in the workplace.

One expert says men and women must work together to reduce the risk for sexual harassment in the workplace.

Topics: Company culture | Coronavirus | Diversity and Inclusion | Top Stories | Top Stories

While we have seen some strides in efforts to advance more women into top leadership positionsalbeit, incrementally small onessexual harassment remains a major challenge impacting many women at work.

On the leadership front, a recent McKinsey survey, Women in the Workplace 2021, reported that women’s representation in senior management grew from 23% to 28% between January 2015 and January 2020, while representation in the C-suite increased from 17% to 21%. Unfortunately, the numbers on workplace-based sexual harassment do not signify the same progress.

The number of sexual harassment claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decreased from 7,500 to 6,500 between 2019-20, prompting some experts to presume the drop is attributed to the pandemic-driven shift from office- to home-based worknot because of a significant reduction in risk for women. In 2018, the claim number also was above 7,500, a sharp increase from the prior year.

And, according to a survey of employees in the tech industry, the Trust Radius Women In Tech Report 2021, one in two women and two in three LGBTQ workers have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The report cites that 72% of women in tech have worked at a company where “bro culture” is pervasive.

These trends could be lessened if men and women leaders work together, says Kathleen Quinn Votaw, CEO of TalenTrust, a human capital consulting firm. But based on past history, it certainly won’t be easy.

Kathleen Quinn Votaw

“My fear is that if we don’t keep our heads and resolve workplace harassment issues together, it will be women who become the big losers in companies across the country,” says Quinn Votaw, author Dare to Care in the Workplace: A Guide to the New Way We Work.

“If men, who still hold most of the power, are uncomfortable [working with women leaders], women risk being cut out of important interactions and opportunities for promotion. That’s not the outcome we want,” she says.

See also: 5 ways to create a safe workplace culture for LGBTQ employees

Quinn Votaw says employers should provide both men and women with tools that minimize, and hopefully eventually eliminate, the destructive polarity currently disturbing workplace peace, safety and productivity.

“Let’s collaborate in defining what will help us all make better choices and create healthier work environments,” she says.

To be clear, she adds, she’s not talking about sexual assaultwhich is a separate issue and, of course, a horrific crime. She’s focused on what she calls the “natural sexuality” that happens in encounters between human beings.

“Unfortunately, some people don’t understand the boundaries because what is innocent flirtation to one person can be harassment to another,” says Quinn Votaw, who has written about how the basic act of hugging in the workplace can be seen very differently within the cultures of equally successful employers.

Being clear about boundariesregardless of genderis important to establishing a safe environment for all, she adds. For example, Quinn Votaw notes that driven by the pandemic, some in-person conference planners have established a code to manage attendees’ comfort level with “touch.” That could mean a red nametag that would signal “no handshaking” and green to suggest “happy to shake”a strategy that she says shows how intentional employers should be about setting boundaries.

Related: HR’s big task: Getting women back in the workforce

Returning to the workplace will present a unique challenge to addressing sexual harassment, Quinn Votaw adds, as the focus on rooting out harassment may have lost some of its momentum (as the EEOC data could indicate), while employers try to manage an entirely different set of pandemic-driven issues now.

“Regardless of the situation, every employer should take care to provide guidelines for culturally appropriate words and behaviors that inspire workplaces where everyone feels safe,” she says.

Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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Sponsored Article

Qualtrics delivers a platform and strategy to meet COVID-19 mandate challenges

How the Vaccination & Testing Manager can help employers navigate vaccine and testing mandates.

By: Qualtrics | October 14, 2021 • 5 min read

Even before President Biden announced an executive order in September mandating workplace vaccinations and/or testing nationwide, one company, Qualtrics was already at work helping employers ensure that workers  – and by extension customers – were being protected from the COVID-19 virus.

Founded in 2002 by Ryan, Jared and Scott Smith in the family’s basement, Qualtrics, whose software platform helps employers improve the customer and employee experience,  recently asked more than 1,000 employees across the country about their attitudes toward vaccine mandates, and how comfortable they feel returning to everyday activities.

While 60% of workers said they would support a vaccine mandate at work, only 34% said their employers required vaccines or would do so in the future. Plus, almost a quarter of employees (23%) would strongly consider leaving their place of work if their employers mandated vaccines – so the turnover risk is real.

To help employers manage evolving vaccine and testing mandates at work, Qualtrics’ launched its Vaccination & Testing Manager, a new product  that securely and easily captures information about employees’ vaccination status as well as conducts daily symptom checks.

According to Benjamin Granger, an organizational psychologist and head of employee experience advisory services at Provo, Utah-based Qualtrics, the solution is designed to be flexible, so that employees can use it via text, email, QR code — however and wherever it is convenient for them.

The technology guides employees through an automated workflow that asks them to verify their vaccination status and allows them to upload a photo of their vaccination card, test results or proof of exemption. The solution also includes a daily symptom checker to help prevent potential outbreaks.

With the announcement of federal mandates in the U.S., employers nationwide suddenly were faced with a challenge they’ve never faced before. What makes this new solution unique is that it’s so flexible and easy to implement, it can be pivoted to meet people’s needs and adapt to changing circumstances.

“Employers need systems they can implement quickly to comply with these mandates,” Granger says. “We offer an agile system that enables companies to efficiently and securely collect information about their employees’ vaccination status. So far, our solution has been implemented in under a week on average.”

The Vaccination & Testing Manager features language and questions pre-built into the tool that employers can leverage in order to quickly implement the solution. They have the option of either using the pre-built questions or customizing the language used in the solution based on their preferences.

One customer, Louisiana State University, leveraged Qualtrics to create a scalable, automated program that allowed their institutions to ask students, faculty and staff about their symptoms daily and perform contact tracing. Soon after, they expanded their use of the program to include COVID-19 testing scheduling and vaccine management.

According to Keena Arbuthnot, Special Advisor to the President on COVID & Joan Pender McManus Distinguished Professor of Education, the top priority, naturally, is keeping the LSU faculty, staff and students safe and healthy.

“The Qualtrics system has provided a flexible and efficient solution that makes it easy for our campus community to report their vaccination or Covid-19 testing status,” she says.

The city of Sacramento, CA also has been actively leveraging Qualtrics’ Vaccination & Testing Manager to help keep track of employee vaccination status. And Mt. Hood Community College in Oregon needed a quick, easy way to ask students about any symptoms they may be experiencing and track who should and should not be on campus. It also needed a program that indicated on a class-by-class level which students were cleared to be there based on the daily symptom check.

“With Qualtrics, Mt. Hood is able to give every professor a visual dashboard that indicates which students are cleared to be in class on a given day and which aren’t — empowering teachers to keep their classrooms safe,” Granger says.

A two-part response for success

As effective as the Vaccination & Testing Manager has been with Qualtrics customers so far, any tech-based solution for this complicated issue requires a proper, effective messaging strategy, according to Granger.

He says the challenge is that taking an “our way or the highway” approach likely will result in a major missed opportunity for employers. That type of mindset can work against other efforts employers are making to help their employees feel like they belong within the company. Plus, an organization that doesn’t take the time to understand how their employees feel about the vaccine, ask about their concerns, and then act on that feedback to create a better experience,  is making a crucial mistake – one that could cost them in higher attrition rates.

“Employers have a legitimate shot of losing people by doing this the wrong way,” he says. “That’s the big piece our team has been focusing on: How do we communicate this program successfully?”

To help make that happen, Qualtrics actively works with customers before any vaccination and testing program is rolled out.

Active employee listening programs are the best way to determine what people are thinking within an organization. That way, employers can determine which groups are resistant to vaccination or testing requirements – an important step because that allows them to target specific employee groups who may have a negative point of view.

“You can target messaging campaigns toward those employees, to try to get them either on board or at least make them know they were heard,” Granger says. “Even if the decision doesn’t go their way, by acknowledging their voice was heard, they will sense that you empathize with them.”

Even if the outcome – in this case, being vaccinated, tested regularly or looking for another job opportunity – wasn’t what they wanted, if they feel like the process the company went through was thorough and fair, they will feel more positive about their employer.

“When it comes to vaccine mandates, the ‘how’ is just as important as the ‘why.’ By first understanding the needs and wants of each unique workforce, employers will put themselves in a much better position when implementing and communicating these new policies,” Granger says.