Female leader making a presentation to colleagues sitting around a table

 Creating a work environment that is free of harassment has multiple benefits for organizations, including

  • Stronger organizational culture
  • Improved talent retention
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Enhanced productivity and performance
  • Higher employee engagement and job satisfaction
  • Higher levels of well-being

Achieving this kind of environment requires a holistic approach that incorporates 6 core elements

  1. Shared Vision

    True and lasting behavior change starts with a shared vision of what the workplace could be, along with a plan on how to get the organization from where it is now to where it wants to be. Under this type of vision, sexual harassment prevention becomes about aligning managers and employees around preventive attitudes and behaviors such as maintaining professional boundaries, speaking up when harassing behavior is experienced or witnessed, and providing guidance and support for targets of harassment.

    These behaviors can then be supported and reinforced by training on other critical elements such as:

    • Minimizing the impact of bias, and eliminating bullying and harassment
    • Workplace violence prevention and conflict resolution
    • Leadership and management skills that build and sustain positive culture change
    • Communication skills, accountability, and other behaviors that empower people to play an active role in keeping the workplace safe and respectful for all.
  2. Senior Leadership Support

    Senior leaders must be key players in creating and communicating the shared vision described above and be visible when the harassment-prevention initiative is launched. One broad strategy for showing active support is incorporating a message from organizational leaders into the company’s sexual harassment prevention training. Either in person or through an introductory note or video, leaders can talk about the importance of creating a safe and respectful workplace, and how everyone is expected to contribute to this kind of culture.

    Other ways senior leaders demonstrate support for sexual harassment prevention include:

    • Modeling respectful behaviors
    • Allocating the appropriate resources for support and training
    • Holding managers (and one another) accountable for reinforcing professional boundaries
    • Making sure reports or complaints are properly handled
  3. Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

    Training should be conducted regularly (or as defined by state law) and across all work sites and organizational levels. Starting with onboarding, and then through consistent refresher training, the organization must communicate to employees its complete commitment to a respectful workplace, free of harassment.

    In addition to reinforcing what constitutes illegal sexual harassment and how to file/handle a complaint, training should remind all staff members of the organization’s expectation that everyone maintains professional boundaries and treats one another with respect and kindness.

    Organizations should look for training that meets all compliance requirements without compromising learner engagement. Boring or unrelatable sexual harassment prevention training doesn't connect with learners or change behavior.

    Training should also track changes in sexual harassment prevention attitudes and behaviors so that the organization can monitor progress, promptly address improvement areas, and measure ROI.

  4. Sexual Harassment Policies

    The organization's sexual harassment policies should meet state requirements if there are any, and should include what constitutes sexual harassment, the liabilities for employees and the organization associated with different forms of harassment and retaliation, limited confidentiality, remedial actions, and the process for bringing complaints forward. Organizations should also take steps to communicate that complaints will be taken seriously and addressed quickly.

    Policy information must be posted publicly and reinforced. Public posting can be in break rooms and company online platforms. Additionally, the policy should be distributed to all employees and new hires upon hire, and reinforced regularly. For example, distribute the policy annualy and/or highlight it during awareness months (like Sexual Assault Awareness Month)

  5. Ongoing Communication - Sexual harassment prevention is not something that can be addressed in a set period of time and then put on the shelf for a year or two. To keep learning alive after training, and to reinforce expectations for the respectful treatment of others, organizations should provide ongoing, clear communication that:
    • Clarifies standards of behavior
    • Ensures that messaging around sexual harassment prevention is consistent
    • Reinforces the importance of training
    • Reiterates the benefits of a work environment where people feel safe, respected, and supported, where speaking up is encouraged, and where maintaining professional boundaries is expected
  6. Response to Sexual Harassment Complaints

    When responding to sexual harassment complaints, organizations should focus on both the needs of the employees and the organization. Instead of solely focusing on the potential for litigation, the organization should work to restore and maintain the dignity of the employees involved by ensuring a fair and prompt investigation, confidentiality to the extent possible, protection from retaliation, and corrective actions. It's important for organizations to take steps to create a safe working environment and  to prevent further offenses. The goal is for complainants feel the process was fair and effective.

For more information on how to gain organization-wide alignment on sexual harassment prevention, see our Harassment Prevention: How to Get Aligned on Professional Boundaries post.