Industries, all over the world, are struggling to cope with sexual harassment allegations as more and more people come forward. This sudden transparency in a normally muted issue is forcing more companies to face these issues and, in some cases, distance themselves completely from the people accused.
At this stage in our history and culture, companies can’t afford to risk keeping employees who exhibit questionable behavior. Besides the major legal implications, there are moral obligations to uphold. Customers will reflect their acceptance in their spending.
Another area where companies might run into trouble is the emergence of more open workplaces. In an effort to improve company culture, companies are allowing more self-expression and advertising a more relaxed environment.
So, how can you set your own personal boundaries in an open workplace?
And, how can you make sure you avoid offending someone else?
The very first thing you should do is find out who you should talk to if any situation does arise. Whether you have an in-house Human Resources department or simply a supervisor in charge, there needs to be someone you can talk to.
In many of the cases, one commonality is that many of the victims didn’t know who to turn to. Or, felt that they would face too much persecution if they did bring anything up. It's imperative for a company to have a clear policy and create an environment of trust so that sensitive issues can be discussed.
In an open work environment, it’s sometimes hard to separate a joke from a personal slight against a certain audience. After all, they don’t call it a punchline for nothing! It’s usually at someone’s expense.
"The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) defines workplace sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature which unreasonably interferes with the performance of a person's job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment." - FindLaw
Most of the time, people know how to take a joke. But, in a work environment, you shouldn’t have to put up with having to laugh off offensive humor. Not that work should be a no-nonsense environment because that’s fun for no one. The difference is bringing a sexual undertone is what makes people uncomfortable.
Sexualizing the workplace, it turns out, makes women and men more uncomfortable and less likely to apply or stay at that company, according to a study by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
The BEST way to ensure a company maintains an appropriate work environment is to diversify.
How can you learn what is appropriate for certain audiences if you can’t observe or learn from that audience?
In order to properly understand what might offend someone, you have to understand them better. This happens by interacting with them. Take their body language into account. Are their arms crossed or are they more relaxed? Are they making eye contact or avoiding it? Do they lean towards or away from you?
Be consistent with your own boundaries. Consistency carries weight with people. And, as soon as you hear something that makes you uncomfortable, tell someone.
One of the most important things you should take away from this giant mess is to voice your concerns. Unfortunately, many of these people got away with harassment for a long time. But, industries are evolving and this behavior is no longer tolerated.