"When you get cultural change on civil rights, it happens because industry leaders do the right thing," said the commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently.
The agency brought a dozen or more business leaders to its headquarters on March 20 for a round table discussion about curbing workplace harassment. The leaders came from a broad array of industries, ranging from retail and hospitality to education, human resources and the law. Participants included representatives from the Society for Human Resource Management and the American Bar Association, along with trade groups like the American Staffing Association.
"The EEOC gathered these leaders to better understand the needs of the workers and employers in their industries, and the wide range of solutions to prevent workplace harassment," explained the EEOC's acting chair.
The idea was to acknowledge that government enforcement is only one way to address the problem of harassment. Trade associations and industry groups can play a role in changing workplace culture through leadership. Each of the organizations invited to the round table performs training and provides resources to members on eliminating harassment.
For example, the Society for Human Resource Management provides members with programming on civility, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and other strategies to fight harassment. It also offers sample policies for member companies to consider adopting.
The president of the American Bar Association cited his organization's long-term commitment to speaking out about discrimination and harassment, while acknowledging that sexual harassment is still a serious problem in the legal profession. He added that the ABA is unusually well positioned to help make change because its members advise both employers and employees on the topic.
Legal compliance may not be enough
As the head of the Society for Human Resource Management pointed out, some behaviors that don't legally constitute sexual or racial harassment are still problematic in the workplace and need to be addressed. That is why his organization urges members to focus on a positive workplace culture overall rather than focusing exclusively on legal compliance.
Several participants stressed that workers must feel comfortable that a harassment complaint won't result in retaliation. Under federal law, retaliation against someone with a good faith discrimination or harassment complaint is illegal, but the problem is too common, unfortunately.
Some of the industry leaders said they were concerned about the impact of harassment claims on their reputation and brand, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Their members are focused on the issue of harassment and ready to take an active role in prevention.
What has your organization been doing to move the needle on harassment? Has an industry group you're a member of suggested policies or tactics for change?