Presented by Trinet

The tech industry has recently been dogged by public allegations of sexual harassment. But as a hotbed for innovation and challenging the status quo, tech companies are in a unique position to lead the charge toward eradicating harassment from our workplaces. Here’s how.

Go above and beyond the complex legal definition

Applicable laws provide rather complicated and involved standards for what constitutes harassment. Go beyond the laws. In other words, adopt an anti-harassment policy that is stricter and simpler to understand than the law. This will send the message to your workforce that your company has zero tolerance for conduct that is even close to the line. It will also make it easier for your workforce to understand the rules that apply to them. And, it will enable your company to address problematic conduct as a policy violation before it becomes a legal violation.

Build an anti-harassment culture 

Companies with low instances of harassment have some common cultural traits. They’re not specific to harassment, but they’re the kinds of characteristics that lead to a culture of respect across the board.

  • They embrace diversity. A company culture that is mindfully established for the inclusion and celebration of everyone leaves little room for degrading behavior against others based on sex or other legally protected categories.
  • They have one unified voice. When your entire company stands behind the same key behaviors and core values, and when each employee can not only name these behaviors and values but explain how they contribute to them and why, you have a strong culture that will not be easily broken by negative influences.
  • They promote a communicative environment that is open and transparent. This type of environment is one where employees are more likely to feel free to come forward and report harassment.

Start at the top

To be effective, executives must role model the type of behavior expected by all members of the organization. It’s not enough to say you have no tolerance for harassment. Leadership must set the example of a workplace where harassment is not allowed in any form. They can do this by both exhibiting professional behaviors and by setting (and enforcing) policies that help to eliminate harassment. All leaders or managers hired should have not just the hard skills to do the job but should also operate with the utmost ethics and integrity.

Make speaking up a company virtue — and easy

One of the ways we are battling workplace harassment head-on at TriNet is by instilling throughout the organization the belief that nobody should ever fear retaliation from speaking up. If anything, they should fear silence. What I mean by this is that it is everyone’s responsibility to report any incidence of harassment they witness, experience or suspect. I want all our employees to feel not only comfortable and empowered to report harassment but to understand that speaking up to any issue of harassment is part of their responsibility as a member of the TriNet team.

Open door policies, in which employees know they are free to bring their concerns to any person in management, at any time, can help. Anonymous reporting options, such as a reporting hotline, are crucial.

Focus on education

Even employees with the best intentions often contribute to an environment of harassment simply because they are not well-informed on how their behaviors may contribute to an environment that other colleagues could find hostile.

You should strive to help your employees really understand what constitutes harassment and what they can do to avoid and prevent it. Go beyond the legal definition of harassment to really educate your team on how sometimes a comment or gesture that may seem innocent to us can be offensive to someone else. Teaching everyone to be aware of their behaviors and sensitive to how others may perceive them is vital to creating an environment that is safe and welcoming to everyone.

Education can be especially useful in tech companies, where many individuals are in their first job out of college or may have relocated and are unaware of what constitutes harassment in your jurisdiction.

Your education program will be most effective if it is custom-built to the dynamics of your organization. There are plenty of canned training methods out there but, like all education, anti-harassment training works best when it is aligned with the needs of the learners.

In many states, there are laws on the books that dictate how harassment training is provided. In California, for example, companies with 50 or more employees are required by law to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisors within six months of hire or promotion and every two years thereafter. I recommend this cadence, at a minimum, even if your local laws don’t require as extensive an amount of training.

Go beyond the handbook

Some companies think they can stop at providing their harassment policy as a page in a multi-page employee handbook and then assume they’ve done their due diligence. Providing written material on your harassment policy is important but it’s just one step in what should be a larger, ongoing company conversation. Reiterate your company’s stance on harassment in meetings, include it in company-wide announcements and post it in common areas like breakrooms and the company intranet. Your policy can’t just live in a handbook if it’s going to work. The more you talk about it, the more it’s part of the company culture.

Walk the talk

Probably the most effective way to reduce harassment in the workplace is by showing your team, when issues are presented, exactly how important a respectful work environment is to your company. This means that allegations of harassment should be investigated and resolved as quickly as possible. Retaliation should be strictly forbidden and, if it occurs, addressed immediately. Properly addressing potential violations is the capstone to a fully evolved program to eradicate harassment.

It’s a good time for tech leaders walk the talk — and to take the lead.

Catherine Wragg is Senior Vice President of Human Resources at TriNet.

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