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The conversation around sexual harassment needs to change.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Task Force report, 75% of people who feel harassed or discriminated against never report it internally. So, while your conversations in HR and the C-Suite are focused on the legalities of sexual harassment, your best defense against lawsuits is to get employees to tell you about it internally so you can address it internally. That means culture is your best defense.

Consider this: A young employee goes out to lunch with her new boss. Over the course of lunch, he comments that she’s easy on the eyes. She feels uncomfortable, but it was just a small comment, anyway. Over time, the comments get more frequent, and she’s not sure what to do. Meanwhile, her co-worker shares that his own boss is a bully and constantly yells and calls people out for mistakes in front of others. There are also some cliques made up of long-time employees, and no one trusts the SVP because he seems like a snake.

Now, bullying is not illegal, so it’s the organization’s prerogative to allow it. Cliques aren’t illegal either. And, the CEO doesn’t think the SVP is a snake, so all good there too.

But, all of this sends the message that core values, behavior and employee safety are not important to leadership. Therefore the company has essentially invited this employee who feels sexually harassed to see an attorney.

I’m hoping you can see now why the conversation about sexual harassment must be focused on a positive work culture. With that in mind, I was recently asked to speak to a room full of CEOs at a Vistage conference regarding this topic, and I laid out those same tips on my most recent Forbes article. You can click here to read all about them.

At the end of the day, culture trumps compliance.

As SHRM’s Taylor says:

“With a healthy workplace culture, when sexual harassment is observed or experienced, the community takes over and shuts it down collectively, with a message that this behavior will not be tolerated here, by anyone at any level.”

What are you doing to create a culture that doesn’t tolerate harassment or bullying?


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Catherine Mattice Zundel

About Catherine Mattice Zundel

Catherine Mattice Zundel, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. . Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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