Mitigating the Risk of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace | Riskonnect

The “#MeToo” movement is far from over, and perhaps only getting started in corporate boardrooms after playing out among some of the biggest names and institutions in Hollywood — presenting a real risk for businesses who ignore sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

And while corporate America is no stranger to sexual assault and harassment claims, it certainly is not accustomed to having such instances widely publicized to the degree now possible thanks to social media — an absolute recipe for costly reputation damage.  

Read, “Why Brand and Risk Management Go Hand in Hand.”

For instance, “#MeToo” is a hashtag used on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. The phrase (and variants of the phrase in other languages) went viral in 2018 shortly after countless actresses came forward to say they had been sexually assaulted or harassed by Hollywood mogel Harvey Weinstein.

In response, individuals from all walks of life — not just Hollywood — posted #MeToo more than 1.7 million times on Twitter, alone, from October to November. Thus far, Weinstein’s career and his company, from which he was removed, have likely suffered irreparable damage.

Furthermore, the #MeToo movement has disgraced and even ended the careers of many U.S. government officials, major media company leaders, and other popular television and movie personalities, as more victims have felt empowered to come forward after seeing so many other accounts like theirs.

And in a world where any one person can be thrust into the limelight overnight with the help of social media, even those organizations in lesser known industries than entertainment or politics can be susceptible to widespread reputation damage from such claims. Yet, many organizations have still yet to take action and attempt to truly mitigate harassment in the workplace.

In fact, a recent survey found that 77 percent of boards have not discussed accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior and/or sexism in the workplace; 88 percent have not implemented a plan of action as a result of recent revelations in the media; and 83 percent have not re-evaluated the company’s risks regarding sexual harassment or sexist behavior at the workplace.

The most common reasons for why boards have not addressed these issues at the board level is a perception that it is not a problem in the company, meaning that boards are simply focusing on other things or don’t feel like it’s a board-level issue, according to the same survey — a joint initiative from the Boardlist and Qualtrics.

However, plenty of support exists to indicate sexual harassment is in fact a problem in the workplace — and a costly one at that: Almost one third of the approximately 90,000 charges received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment, including charges of unlawful harassment on the basis of sex.

As for the cost to address such claims, in 2015 the EEOC recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment. That amount only accounted for direct costs, like legal fees — not the true cost of such claims, including the mental, physical and financial harm to the victim; the decreased productivity and increased turnover among other employees; and reputational harm to the business.

While once upon a time it might have been enough to address sexual harassment complaints via public relations initiatives or compliance as a defense, that is not enough in today’s world where all an organization’s darkest secrets can be exposed and then shared millions of times in moments with a click of a button.

Preventing sexual harassment from occurring as much as you can within your organization is really the only answer. And while it might sound impossible, the right tools — including the right risk management technology — can help.

Just as integrated risk management technology can address so many other risks from across the enterprise, it can help to address and even prevent sexual harassment events at your organization — particularly by giving your employees a voice; ensuring the highest level of compliance; and identifying patterns so you can address the deeper issue, not just an incident.  

Don’t Just Give Employees a Voice; Make Them Feel Heard
While many employees don’t report incidents of sexual harassment because they fear retaliation or job loss, others don’t report simply because they don’t know the appropriate recourse for action or they fear inaction on behalf of their employer. The failure to have an effective system in place to thoroughly report and accurately document incidents puts your organization at considerable risk.

The right risk management technology, however, can automate the incident intake process — making it easier and less intimidating for employees to report an incident. It can also automate the routing and escalation process, ensuring the appropriate stakeholders are notified of an incident and can take timely action, which improves compliance.  

Because claimants can also be notified of actions being taken on their behalf, it helps them to feel validated and shows your interest in their well-being. This means not only did you give your employee a voice to raise a complaint, you made your employee feel heard. This goes a long way in managing your reputation and employee morale.

Manage Compliance and Beyond
Yes, sexual harassment risks are more than a compliance issue. No, sexual harassment cannot effectively be managed without compliance. To effectively manage the risk of sexual harassment at your organization, you must go beyond hanging a poster discouraging harassing behavior for the sake of compliance.

You must work to eradicate sexual harassment from your culture, which requires a robust governance, risk and compliance program, along with auditing processes, that take into account sexual harassment.

Truly integrated risk management technology is also a governance, risk and compliance system, which seeks to connect the silos of risk management — including those that might determine how sexual harassment claims are handled.

Read, “Riskonnect Recognized as a Leader in GRC Platform Vendors by Independent Research Firm.”

It’s also an auditing system with the ability to identify an audit subject (like sexual harassment), develop an audit plan, document the audit, spur agreement on any audit finding, oversee remediation, and report to an audit committee.

Sexual harassment cannot be treated as a one-off issue if you intend to eradicate it from your company culture. It must me embedded into your governance, risk and compliance program as much as SOX or OSHA compliance.

Address the Issue, Not the Incident
Just as sexual harassment should not be considered a one-off challenge for organizations, individual sexual harassment claims should not be treated as one-off instances or incidents. You must get to the root of the problem to move from fighting fires to proactive risk mitigation. And this can only be done with the best analytics.

The best analytics, of course, are based on real-time data — pulled from any multitude of sources — that is normalized or similarly-formatted so that it is comparable and transparent. In addition, the best analytics are also visual, making it easy to identify trends.

The right risk management technology can surface your relevant risk information, including information necessary for identifying and resolving sexual harassment claims — from wherever it’s hiding in your organization. It can also analyze it, connect it with other internal and external data, normalize it securely in the cloud, and then depict it graphically.  

Read, “Big Data, Small Data: How to get from Insights to Action with Data Visualization.”

This will help you to look for patterns of problematic behavior — like individuals cited in multiple claims, or recurring locations for instances of harassment — rather than getting mired down in the details of one specific claim and thinking it’s an anomaly, when actually it’s not.

In Conclusion
Sexual harassment is not a new problem. However, many organizations are seeing it as a real problem for the first time — now understanding both the financial and reputational risks associated with sexual harassment claims and the very real possibility of these claims becoming another viral hashtag attached to their organization’s name.

Well-managed risks equal well-managed brands. In fact, integrated risk management and brand management are arguably one and the same. That’s why risk management technology can be so helpful with managing enterprise-wide risks, including sexual harassment — and therefore preventing any associated brand erosion. It helps to facilitate the transparency needed to reassure customers “what you see is what you get.”

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