What HR Needs To Do in the Wake of #MeToo

"Post #MeToo, why hasn’t human resources dropped everything to respond quickly, discreetly and effectively to complaints of abuse and harassment?"
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

This article appears in print in the August 2018 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

Good news: more women are reporting workplace harassment, and the press is paying attention. The bad news is most women, such as those at Nike, must advocate for themselves. A 2017 Harris poll found that just 20 percent of women surveyed thought their company would support them if they spoke out. Post #MeToo, why hasn’t human resources dropped everything to respond quickly, discreetly and effectively to complaints of abuse and harassment?

The combination of poorly defined HR responsibilities plus poor leadership is to blame. HR has an imperative to act on, investigate and fairly resolve complaints. But leaders are responsible for providing safe, productive places where employees can thrive. Leaders need to implement zero-tolerance harassment policies and hold everyone, including HR, accountable.

A company’s culture doesn’t always align with its aspirations. Many successful companies treat employees respectfully. Others are toxic. Sometimes, HR and/or senior leaders ignore or condone unacceptable behavior.

I’ve been fortunate to work with leaders who don’t tolerate abuse. They’ve been willing to support tough outcomes, even when it meant disciplining or terminating people who were otherwise “high performers.”

I’ve also worked at companies where performance is valued above behavior. They are hard places for an HR professional. Suppose you are a new or junior HR professional, and you raise concerns about the CEO. Boards, advisers and venture firms should play more active roles by ensuring that everyone, including HR personnel, have safe, confidential ways to report concerns.

It’s also undeniable that some HR people lack capability. That’s not to say they’re incompetent, but have they been trained? What tools are they given to act on employee concerns, conduct proper investigations and remedy complex personnel issues? Leaders must ensure all employees, including HR professionals, have resources to succeed.

What leaves me heartsick are cases where employees courageously share their concerns to no avail. As someone who cares about women, respectful workplaces, fairness and transparency, I’ve been grappling with the causes and consequences of HR’s failure to act on even the most egregious cases of harassment and abuse. 

According to an article recently published on Workforce.com, “Victims accuse HR of failing to adequately deal with complaints of improper or illegal behavior, provide proper reporting channels or take other actions as warranted.”
Rebecca Clements, VP of human resources at Seattle-based Moz, has this advice for her HR peers: “It’s time that we collectively take a firm stand against all forms of harassment and lead this change in our companies. At times, we’ve lacked the courage to respond quickly and hold people accountable for their behavior. We need to stop checking ‘harassment prevention boxes’ and focus our energy on building highly inclusive environments, where everyone feels welcome and can do their best work.”  

Whatever barriers they face, I hope my HR colleagues use their resources to navigate difficult situations. If you’re in HR, figure out who your trusted advocates are and how they can help.

Last fall, my firm received calls from leaders imploring: “Help me ensure we’re not the next Uber.”

The year 2018 saw companies prioritize workplace training. My firm, UniquelyHR, fielded requests to train roughly 1,000 managers and employees locally. Policies abound;  94 percent of U.S. organizations already have a sexual harassment policy. But a recent Boardlist survey shows 88 percent of boards haven’t developed action plans in response to #MeToo.

Norwest Venture Partners recommends four pillars to uphold a positive, respectful workplace culture:

Policy: A formal nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policy.

Leadership: Leaders must set an example and create a culture that doesn’t tolerate harassment. No double standards.

Antiharassment Training: Upon hire and at least biannually.

Accountability: Complaint process, swift investigations, board visibility.

Leaders who hire and train HR professionals should select people with the right skills, offer them robust resources, train them to recognize and address inappropriate behavior and conduct thorough investigations, and ensure they have access to seasoned coaches. The HR role has become increasingly complex, and training has not kept pace. We’re still learning, and this is not a simple problem.

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