“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
― Abraham Lincoln

In recent months, the number of allegations regarding sexually inappropriate behavior at work has been shockingly high. What is causing this apparent rise in behavior? What do the alleged abusers have in common? Power.sexual harassment

The authors of a new study*, argue that power may be compensating for some inadequacy among those who are psychologically insecure. They suggest it is those who feel low-power, no matter the reality of their actual position in the organizational hierarchy, who exercise power through sexual harassment. It is one way to satisfy their long-awaited chance to control others. This is partially due to that those in positions of power (vs. non-powerholders) are more likely to view people as objects, rather than as individuals.

High profile cases of sexual harassment allegations are a reminder to all corporations and institutions to revisit policies and procedures on sexual harassment and assault. Allegations can arise in any workplace environment. How likely is it to occur in yours?

Here are some things you can do to safeguard your employees.

  1. Recognize that workplace cultural climates have changed. When it comes to sexual harassment, the definition of “inappropriate“ has changed.
  2. Discourage and discipline behaviors that create hostile work environments.
  3. Provide sexual-harassment training, including bystander intervention, for all employees and require them to sign a document of understanding.
  4. Review comments on employee engagement surveys to see if there are any patterns of behavior that may need to be addressed. Get in front of the situation by investigating any and all complaints.
  5. Allow employees (men and women) to speak to a qualified third-party, perhaps through your employee assistance program (EAP) or an independent consultant, about any impropriety they may have experienced. Make it clear that intentionally false accusations will be disciplined harshly. Protect the privacy of all parties involved and be sure to protect the dignity of any victims.
  6. Communicate the process and its rationale from beginning to end.
  7. Initiate a respectful workplace initiative that includes diversity and inclusion awareness training (e.g. more women in powerful positions may help).
  8. Make sure your legal team is involved and approves of all policies and intended actions.

The solution it seems, isn’t solely about shifting the ways in which we react to sexual harassment, but about shifting the environments and circumstances that breed sexual harassment. Turning Point Leadership Group can help. We develop cultures by providing training in sexual harassment awareness, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and more. We coach leaders when needed and help drive your success. For more information www.turningpointlg.com, (404) 814-5259.

*”Sexual aggression when power is new: Effects of acute high power on chronically low-power individuals”. Williams MJ, Gruenfeld DH, Guillory LE Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. 2017 Feb;112(2):201-223.

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