Is It Time to Update Your Sexual Harassment Policy?

The most recent very public political sex scandals have once again opened the door to double entedres in our national dialogue, which have proliferated in print and media coverage as well as talk shows. And let’s face it – the guffaws and giggles related to quips and plays on the name “Weiner” have proven to be difficult to avoid. But with all the subtlety of a “that’s what she said” joke, the sobering crash and burn of the once highly esteemed House Rep. Anthony Weiner (D, NY) has focused some on the need to review and possibly update their organization’s sexual harassment and appropriate conduct policies.
The easily targeted surname, politicized scandal and fallout and the “keepin’ it classy” discourse of late night TV aside, what can be gathered from Weiner’s obviously compromised insight and judgment? At the very least, it is a reminder to seriously consider how the harassment and appropriate conduct landscape has changed in light of new technology and social networking venues.
Does your company’s sexual harassment policy cover all the bases? What about “sexting” or inappropriate pictures sent via company equipment or networks? What about semi-racy pictures taken in the company gym and posted on Facebook or Twitter? Or simply having an officer of your organization implicated in something that, whether illegal or just … I don’t know … creepy, reflects back on your carefully managed corporate culture and brand? And have you even considered how the attitudes and behaviors of Millennials, who tend to get technically creative and social networky about everything, may require a little more management than ye’ ol’ sexual harassment onboarding video was prepared to cover? Chances are pretty good that your organization’s video is quick becoming outdated, even if it was developed a year or two ago.
Perhaps the RNC and DNC aren’t the best role models but, then again, what can you do when your organization’s selection policies are subject to voters, PACs and special interest groups (though you’d think in light of their track records they’d have their conduct policies written in six-foot high burning letters on the DC mall by now). But even if our political leaders are a lost cause, at least one government institution has stepped up and is taking this issue very seriously.
The U.S. military, in all branches, has struggled with sexual harassment and assault problems and continues to confront the issue head-on. When looking for updates and thought leadership on the issue, the 2011 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military from the Department of Defense might be a good place to start.
Women have made major inroads into the traditionally male culture of military institutions and now comprise almost 20% of active duty personnel, with almost all officer and enlisted communities opened up. With military missions occurring in highly stressful, team-based and often isolated environments, the need for aggressive strategies to prevent sexual harassment and assault is a vital concern. And with significant influxes of Millennials, military institutions are also working to better understand and reach a new generation with innovative new programs, such as a pilot Bystander Intervention Program and more established Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program. These initiatives use intensive leadership training that is then passed on through peer-to-peer coaching to encourage spot intervention when risky behavior is observed.
Another good source for information and practices in preventing sexual harassment is a USDOL publication that draws some private-sector parallels with the military. Women in the Construction Workplace: Providing Equitable Safety and Health Protection provides guidance for the predominately male centric and misogynistic construction industry for dealing with the increasing number of women entering the field. Inequalities and a hostile work environment were reported by about 88% of women studied in the surveys supporting the report, and there are some recommendations that should be considered in any industry looking to revamp their organizations approaches to preventing sexual harassment.
And for information specific to dealing with the attitudes of the incoming Millennial generation, one good source is a 2010 publication from Cambridge University Press titled Sex, Power and Consent: Youth culture and the unwritten rules – available on Amazon for about $30. Though predominately focused on education institutions, the book offers insights on generational attitudes, harassment using technology, education and prevention programs.
So if your organization hasn’t looked at its sexual harassment policy lately, maybe it’s time to review, revamp and make sure you're keeping with the times.
Eric Davis
Eric received his master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Marshall University in 1996. He has had 20+ years of workforce experience in a variety of fields. Before coming to i4cp, he worked as a laboratory technician for DuPont, a conference planner for Marshall University, the public relations manager for the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Technical Manufacturing, and a graphic designer for COX Communications.