Sexual harassment, age bias, and discrimination of race, sexual orientation, and gender all remain pervasive issues in the workplace, and the C-suite is not immune. During RISE’s virtual Women in Health Care Leadership Summit, Heather S. Sanderson of Franco Signor LLC, offered seven tactics employers can take to address and eliminate sexual harassment at the workplace, instill accountability, and improve workplace culture.

A staggering rate of women (81 percent) and men (43 percent) have reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime, according to the 2019 #MeToo National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault. Unfortunately, these types of unwanted behaviors commonly occur in the workplace, especially for women.

In her presentation, Harassment in the C-Suite: Is it still alive and well?, at The RISE Women in Health Care Leadership Summit, Heather S. Sanderson, Esq., MSCC, CHPE, CLMP, CMSP, chief legal officer, Franco Signor LLC, provided actionable takeaways for victims and employers, as well as best practices to set your organization and coworkers up for success when dealing with harassment.

Despite rules in place to protect employees from sexual misconduct, 75 percent of women who experience harassment never report it, explained Sanderson. Indeed, many women who experience harassment in the workplace choose not to report due to fear of the impact it could have on their careers. But recent events with the #MeToo movement have opened the door for more women to speak up. “What a wonderful time that we’re in that people feel comfortable coming forward,” said Sanderson. “I’m excited because I feel like we’re going to make some real change.”

If you are a victim of sexual misconduct at work, here are the actions Sanderson recommends you take:

  • Review company policies to determine exactly which policies have been broken
  • Determine if anonymity is safer than disclosure
  • Determine if law enforcement is necessary
  • Report it immediately to your direct supervisor, compliance officer or HR, or law enforcement
  • Gather as much evidence as possible, such as witnesses or victims, documentation, audio/video, etc.
  • Evaluate whether you feel safe staying with the company, including any level of resolution that may make you comfortable

If you’re on the receiving end of a misconduct report from a subordinate, it’s critical to take the report seriously and take action, explained Sanderson. “You can be held personally liable if you mishandle the situation.” To properly address a harassment situation reported to you, Sanderson recommends three key actions: respond, support, report.

Employers who receive a misconduct report should do the following:

  • Provide ample documentation of your subordinate’s claim
  • Ask the victim what would make him or her feel safe and take any necessary, legal actions
  • Immediately determine where within the organization the complaint must go next and ensure there is more than one person with you in the room when you further report the claim to compliance, HR, or legal
  • If you work in compliance, HR, or the legal department be sure to enforce discipline consistently
  • Be mindful of all actions in the aftermath of a report and never retaliate

Although company policies against harassment in the workplace are important to protect victims, they aren’t enough to prevent the violation in the first place. “We have to change the culture to make these kinds of actions not happen from the outset,” said Sanderson. “Rules and laws are great. We absolutely need them. But we need culture change to shift this.”

In her presentation, Sanderson shared seven tactics employers can take to address and eliminate sexual harassment, instill accountability, and improve workplace culture:

Regular employee training: Conduct sexual harassment training for employees at least once a year to teach employees what sexual harassment is, discuss their rights as employees in the workplace, review the complaint procedure, and encourage employees to report any misconduct.

Supervisor and manager training: Perform a separate training for supervisors and managers once a year to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace and how to handle complaints.

Monitor the workplace: Be present in your employee’s work environment regularly. Ensure there are no offensive posters or notes, be accessible, and keep the communication lines open.

Take all complaints seriously: If you receive a complaint, act immediately to investigate the claim.

Maintain open dialogue: Include open discussion in training and encourage employees to feel comfortable to ask questions or have conversations about misconduct.

Avoid performance bias: All responses to misconduct should be consistent to the policy, regardless of the tenure, performance, or perceived value of an individual within the company. Any discipline should be consistent.

Lead by example: Leaders within the company should take an active role in dialogue around sexual harassment.