As a result of the “great awakening” last year of the persistence and pervasiveness of sexual harassment, we all know that more must be done to tackle this scourge. Companies are looking to enhance their preventive efforts, and, of course, that must start at the top.
To minimize the burden on victims, employers are empowering “bystanders.” For examples, employers are—or should be--modifying their anti-harassment complaint procedures to the extent necessary to make clear that an employee does not have to be the object of unacceptable conduct to raise a concern. Employees can raise concerns if they are “bystanders,” that is, if they see, hear or otherwise become aware of harassing conduct.
Leadership training also should include a bystander component. If you have power and you see or hear harassing behavior, you must make clear, “in the moment,” the conduct is unacceptable and then take prompt and proportionate corrective/disciplinary action.
I keep asking myself: what more can bystanders do? I have one suggestion for consideration: peer-to-peer interventions.
Take the following example:
- An employee sees his friend look a female co-worker “up and down.” To the best of the employee’s knowledge, no one but he has seen the unacceptable conduct.
- The employee has no power over his friend. And, he does not want to get his friend in potential trouble by filing a complaint, but does not want to ignore the conduct either.
If the employee is a true friend, he will talk with his peer. Consider the following response:
- I have bad news and good news.
- The bad news is that the way you just looked Jane “up and down” is not okay.
- The “good news” is that I am telling you now so you don’t ever do it again.
- This conduct demeans women and makes you look bad, too.
- Please promise me you won’t do this again and will review the Company’s anti-harassment policy.
The emperor wore no clothes because no one told him he was wearing none. There are degrees of unacceptable conduct, and sometimes a peer can jump in before what he or she sees or hears causes harm not only to others but also to his or her friend.
Of course, there are legal nuances that need to be navigated before incorporating peer-to- peer interventions into your employee training/education. Those nuances go beyond this blog
For now, it is very simple: friends do not let friends engage in harassing behaviors.