Thoughts from a DE HR professional about the changing regulations, policies, and legislation affecting our workplace and most valuable assets – our human resources.
I think I say it daily to clients, coworkers, friends and family — “we live in interesting times today.” An understatement, for sure. But how did we get here? How did we get to a time where sexual harassment training is now mandated by state law? Have we simply swept this lack of education, self and social awareness, and disregard for such an obvious standard of workplace dignity under the rug for so long that it has now come to this? You bet we did. But there’s so much more to this subject that I’d like to address.
First of all, it’s not just about sex. If we’re going to discuss sexual harassment, which is only one type of harassment, we need to address everything else that relates to it including discrimination, stereotyping, and unconscious bias. When we talk about discrimination, we mean treating people differently on the basis of their protected class – race, nationality, age, gender, disability, pregnancy and military status. I think it’s equally as important to discuss this type of behavior because it happens just as frequently as sex-based discrimination or sexual harassment, if not more. But sex sells, so that’s what’s mostly in the news. Train yourself to not only be aware of sexual harassment, but also other forms of harassment and discrimination. How often have you heard someone make a racist joke at work or maybe make an employment decision based on a stereotype? It happens so often, and sometimes when we don’t even know we’re doing it. That’s called “unconscious bias.” My goal in pointing this out is to help you make it conscious. Take a step back and try your hardest to remove all bias from the scenario. Try to “not know” what you already know about someone. It can be challenging, but it comes easier with practice.
Now that we’ve addressed the fact that discrimination is just as important, let’s discuss sexual harassment. A female, Delaware employment attorney once said in a presentation about harassment that “it’s not about sex, it’s about power.” Truer words have never been spoken. Power. Think about that word. It’s a striking yet simple term, and we all know what it means for someone to have power over others – especially when it’s used negatively, selfishly or to deliberately cause harm to others. It leaves others in a helpless state because without their own power, what are they left to do but shut up and take it? THAT’S why we, Delaware business professionals, are currently in the place we are where sexual harassment training is now state mandated. It’s because for decades, those in power abused it and no one had the guts to speak up about it until you could do so behind a screen on social media. And now here we are. I think there is just as much positivity as negativity that can come from social media, but let’s simplify this for a second. Drive home the importance of educating our children, friends, and coworkers about what sexual harassment is, what it looks like, and how not speaking up about it is not an option anymore. And I’m not talking about taking to social media, I’m talking about having face-to-face interaction, in-person conversations with other humans about these issues. Dialogue is a very powerful thing in this fight against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. I believe that educating people on the subject, and therefore teaching self and social awareness, are the foundations for having productive dialogue about difficult topics like these. Additionally, let’s teach our children how to use power productively, and to garner respect instead of using it selfishly for sex or other vices that simply do not belong in the workplace. Let’s teach them how important it is to use our voices and ability to have face-to-face conversations as instruments of power when we feel we have none. And lastly, let’s instill in them the confidence to act and speak to protect dignity in the workplace and rid it of culture-killing unproductivity and negativity.
Lastly, let’s discuss the workplace because that’s where these behaviors are taking place. Work is where we go to make money to live, and ultimately to support ourselves and our families. We probably spend more time at work with our coworkers than we do with our families. Therefore, we must protect the workplace and quickly stop behavior that negatively affects it. We shouldn’t have to spend the majority of our time trying to make money to support our families in a horrible work environment. I’m not talking about the normal daily difficulties of work, like admitting a mistake we made to a client or teammate, or fielding complaints about poor service. That is normal and part of work. I’m talking about truly toxic behavior that is repeated, including inappropriate displays of romance in the workplace, or offensive remarks whether directed at someone or simply witnessed, that make people uncomfortable. The workplace is no place for that. It’s a place for WORK. This doesn’t mean there can’t be friendships or relationships amongst coworkers, I’m simply encouraging people to keep behavior at work professional and related to work. If it’s not job related, leave it at the door. I’ve often said this to clients, fellow HR professionals and managers: “It is your duty to protect the workplace and having a difficult conversation with someone whose toxic behavior is negativity affecting the work environment is part of your job.” That’s why we, Delaware business professionals, are here right now, because not enough people felt it was their duty to protect the workplace. That stops now because Delaware law forces us as business leaders to do so, but I hope that each of us start thinking a little more about what the workplace should mean for you, your business, and your most important assets, your human resources.
Yes, we absolutely live in interesting times right now, but everyone needs to take responsibility and accountability for their own actions, especially in the workplace, and whether or not it’s mandated by law. You can eliminate discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, unconscious bias etc. by your daily actions, and you have more power than you think with your actions and voice. Be powerful such that you elicit respect, not for oppressive or selfish reasons, and especially not for sex. There’s certainly no place for that in the workplace.