Preventing Workplace Sexual Harassment Through Leadership

May 12, 2021 by Mike Bishop

A pink page ripped open reveals #METOO in black ink on a white page.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): “Harassment in the workplace will not stop on its own—it’s on all of us to be part of the fight to stop workplace harassment. We cannot be complacent bystanders and expect our workplace cultures to change themselves.”

This truth cannot be overstated. 

For 30 years, the law, the media, and popular culture has reported about sexual harassment—and the need to eliminate it. It is appropriate, therefore, to ask: Why does so much harassment persist and take place in so many of our workplaces? And, most important of all, what can be done to prevent it? After 30 years, is there something we’ve been missing?

It could be said that the missing element is leadership. Too often, yet for good reason, dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace is something that management, executive directors, and chief executive officers often defer to others to handle and manage.

Perhaps the time has come to see the wisdom and efficacy of having nonprofit leaders become more personally involved in the necessary task of eliminating and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Granted, the reality is that many of these individuals are very busy, taxed, and overworked. However, a demonstration by senior management and supervisors that they acknowledge, understand, and will take an active role in prevention can only have a positive effect upon the consciousness in the workplace that “zero tolerance” means just that.

In general, there are many ways to demonstrate this leadership. Here are just a few suggestions:

  1. Management should take an active role in training

The presence of these agency leaders and senior managers at training sessions impresses the importance of the subject onto staff. It signals that management is committed to the elimination of sexual harassment in the workplace.

  1. Train supervisors to monitor the workplace for policy breaches

Supervisors are uniquely positioned to monitor the interactions of staff with one another and to make inquiries if there is a hint toward any form of harassment. Supervisors should also monitor whether members of the staff show signs of being victimized.

  1. Proactively support enforcement and prevention

The need to effectively deal with sexual harassment in the workplace often presents management with a conflict of loyalties if the offender is a long-time employee, colleague, or friend. No one is too important, indispensable, or essential to an employer’s business to be disciplined for violations of a zero-tolerance policy, and managers should demonstrate the courage to handle these situations properly.

  1. Monitor and track complaints and investigations

While the complaint and investigation processes are properly delegated to staff with the experience and expertise to handle these critical functions, it’s also vitally important that management know how these actions are handled.

  1. Maintain an open-door policy

Nothing will encourage employees to come forward and report their experiences more than a senior manager who welcomes, supports, and empathizes with them.

The law has placed no greater importance on any single aspect of employment than the prevention and elimination of sexual harassment. While training and effective complaint and investigation policies have provided methods to achieve this goal, dedicated understanding, support, and encouragement by the leaders of an organization are essential to ensure that mission will succeed.

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Tags: Risk Management, Member Resources

Mike Bishop

About the Author

Mike Bishop is an Employment Risk Manager for the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance, where he counsels nonprofits on the management of employment risks by helping them understand employment law mandates and best practices to motivate and manage employees. Before that, Mike worked at the law firm Matheny Sears Linkert and Jaime, where he focused on employment law counseling and litigation. When he isn’t hard at work, Mike enjoys attending concerts by the Cleveland Orchestra and exercising his masterful skills as a jazz guitarist. Mike holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Davis, as well as a J.D. from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. He currently resides in Lakewood, OH.