Vault Platform CEO Neta Meidav explores how to create a “speak up” culture in the workplace – one that ensures employees don’t fear retribution if whistleblowing or reporting harassment.
Though the roots of #MeToo trace back upward of a decade, the movement hit its stride in the fall of 2017, prompting increased scrutiny around bad behaviors and spawning the creation of TIME’S UP and similar organizations. Since then, several high-profile cases have gone to court, and legislators have passed laws to support victims and hold offenders accountable. Even so, experience tells us change takes time, and while the intent is there, meaningful impact remains months or even years away.
In the interim, employers are left to wonder how they might put the wheels in motion within their companies and develop more positive workplace cultures, with the goal of instilling trust, encouraging workers to speak up whenever and wherever they feel it’s necessary and handle claims with the utmost respect and expedience.
Of course, putting such an initiative into practice requires more than a poster on the breakroom wall – it takes careful orchestration between stakeholders to review and process compliance needs thoroughly, source and implement the right technologies, communicate updated procedures to employees and monitor progress continuously. What follows is a look at these disparate but interconnected components of culture and actionable advice for nurturing a workplace culture that is mindful and reproachful of misconduct at every turn.
When it comes to reporting workplace transgressions, there are reasons to stay quiet, particularly on the part of women. According to one study, while some 54 percent of women did report unwanted sexual advances, they saw 95 percent of the men accused go unpunished.
There are also those who may have witnessed wrongdoing but didn’t step forward. For many of these, fear precludes them from speaking up – fear of retribution, fear of losing their job, fear of feeling disgraced. These feelings stem from the simple fact that, up until recently, anti-harassment and misconduct policies did more to protect the company than employees, with training in place to avoid liability rather than ensure safe spaces. That’s not speculation either, but rather rooted firmly in the outcomes of two Supreme Court cases. Seeking to allay what equates to decades of fear and anxiety necessitates a renewed approach on the part of the employer.
In the past, misconduct reporting typically involved dedicated anonymous hotlines or physical meetings with HR. These were either “too close to home” on the part of going directly to HR, or too alienating on the part of anonymous hotlines. Today, advanced strategies, powered by technology, take the onus off individuals and put it back onto the organizations, offering workers a way to build and submit a claim without being subject to the opinions of others. Having a trustworthy solution for reporting demonstrates a commitment to employees, provided there’s follow-through. Whether that includes a full-on investigation or disciplinary action per the latest regulations, every reported instance deserves the company’s thought and attention.
Layered into the conversation around trust is compliance. Here, there’s been substantial legislative development in the wake of #MeToo, particularly around the use of nondisclosure agreements that cover sexual harassment. At the federal level, the BE HEARD and EMPOWER Acts, introduced earlier this year and both designed to deter and prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace, remain under review with the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
In the meantime, states including Arizona, California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington now limit or prohibit the use of nondisclosure provisions, making it easier for employees to come forward and tell their stories. That’s just scratching the surface; several other laws tackle workplace behavior head-on in an effort to make these environments more accommodating (even for independent contractors) while enforcing consequences for those found in violation.
Therefore, companies need to stay acutely aware of the evolving legislative landscape to ensure internal programs meet changing compliance needs. This move extends to include almost all employers, even those without on-site HR representatives, now subject to stricter rules about training new and existing employees, as seen in New York. Failure to comply by a specific date leaves not only the organization vulnerable, but continues to put their workforce at risk, too.
By acting on behalf of the entire company, implementing policies that build trust and manage compliance, employers offer assurance to employees – a guarantee that they take these matters seriously. But seeking to destigmatize reporting and inspire action on the part of victims and bystanders requires additional coordination; it’s no longer enough to meet the minimum.
Employers interested in enacting lasting change need to go further, combining ongoing training with open communication, civility and empowerment to get the conversation started and help employees understand what constitutes harassment and the steps they need to take. Says The New York Times, “… harassers often test how far they can go by starting with inappropriate comments or touches. A good workplace culture stops them before the offenses get worse.”
Here is where technology steps once again, not just by offering a secure way to report misconduct back to the organization, capturing the details and facilitating review on the part of the employer. By its mere presence, a pervasive technology solution can send the message that employees work in a culture where it’s safe to speak up. With education and support, employees know what to do if and when a situation occurs – while feeling encouraged to come forward. Issues of workplace misconduct and harassment become less about shame and more about sharing experiences whenever and wherever necessary — in turn, stimulating an active response across the workforce and working to build a safer, stronger environment for all, rather than some.