“Sex in the Workplace” Panel: A Recap

The cultural reckoning encapsulated by the #MeToo movement has survivors of sexual misconduct inside and outside the workplace demanding accountability on a level never witnessed before. We hail this significant societal step forward and today’s c-suite has no choice but to prepare for the reputational, labor and economic costs of sexual misconduct in the workplace.

I had the pleasure of being a panelist at a recent program co-hosted by the Women’s Bar Association and The Boston Club called “Sex in the Workplace” to address this very topic. It was an opportunity for my fellow panelists (from the worlds of law and venture capital) and I to share effective strategies with the attendees for rooting out sexual misconduct and minimizing the business costs.

In Solomon McCown’s experience working with leadership during these tumultuous times, what has changed is that management is now viewing complaints of sexual misconduct— not as isolated separate incidents–but as part of a systematic problem. The encouraging news is that we have seen CEOs taking a more proactive approach in getting to the root cause of this behavior, so they can enact positive “culture change” within their respective organizations.

The attorneys on the panel, Vivian Hsu of Hsu & Associates and Bronwyn Roberts of Duane Morris LLP, stressed the legal responsibly of maintaining a work place that is free from sexual and other forms of harassment. While training and education for employees may not be mandatory, it is highly encouraged to promote a healthy environment in which leadership sends a clear signal that preventing and confronting such issues is a priority and innate to the organization’s culture and mission.

Natasha Lamb of Arjuna Capital, a practitioner and advocate of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, made the case that a diverse workforce, in which sexual misconduct is proactively and transparency addressed, begets better outcomes and performance.  She stressed the usefulness of unconscious bias training which promotes increased awareness, a culture of speaking up, and challenging behavior.

As a professional communicator, there is much we can do to counsel our clients both before a crisis strikes and in the immediate aftermath. Prevention means making sure polices are written in a way that are contemporary and relevant for a diverse workforce, ensuring they are visible on the right channels, and arming managers with the proper messaging and training them so they feel comfortable and confident when explaining company policy. An effective response means making sure all language strikes an authentic and empathetic tone and not being afraid to say you’re sorry–it’s not an admission of guilt and it might just lead to an internal resolution rather than litigation.

Perhaps most critically when communicating on sexual misconduct in the workplace: keep the survivor’s point of view top of mind at all times. Assuming this POV will help you avoid any mis-steps and language that could be construed as victim-blaming.

Thank you to the Women’s Bar Association and the Boston Club for including us in such an important and timely conversation.

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