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Incivility is a Gateway Drug to Harassment: What We Learned at Power Shift Summit

2017 was largely defined by various cases of sexual harassment. In fact, in 2017, Time magazine named ‘The Silence Breakers,’ or the group of women who outed their harassers the “Person of the Year.” The Associated Press ranked sexual harassment as the top news story of 2017.

It’s very clear that the events of 2017 are going to have a massive effect on corporate culture for a long time. One industry that was very publicly caught up in accusations of sexual misconduct was journalism.

On Tuesday, Newseum hosted a conference called Power Shift Summit, where journalists gathered to discuss solutions to the ongoing problem of workplace harassment and bullying. Amidst some very tweetable moments, and occasional NSFW language, there was thought-provoking, powerful discussion that can have impacts on any industry and organization.

Here are some of the best conversations from Power Shift Summit:

Harassment Is Costly (But Not the Way You Think)

It’s not exactly groundbreaking to report that harassment is financially costly. Average settlements range from $85,000-$125,000, and as many as 85% of women report being harassed at some point in their career. With more women finding the courage to speak out, it’s a safe bet that costs attributed to sexual harassment will rise. But there’s a hidden long-term cost to harassment in the workplace.

Amy Brittain, the investigative journalist who helped the Washington Post break the surprising story on Charlie Rose’s sexual misconduct, pointed to another costly consequence of workplace harassment: the loss of human capital.

“None of the women who came forward still work in the industry,” said Amy Brittain. Part of this can be attributed to the unfortunate reality that comes with speaking out. “We all realize that its an inherently unfair process for the burden of proof to be on these women to step forward and have their names attached to these allegations.”

The emotional labor and traumatic experiences of dealing with workplace harassment unfortunately drive talented minds out of the industries where their ideas could have major impact. As an employer, you can’t afford to burn through great talent because of a toxic workplace culture.

Incivility Is a Gateway Drug to Harassment

“Incivility is a gateway drug to harassment,” says Sharon Masling, chief of staff at the EEOC. What does that mean, exactly? It means that employees who exhibit rude, unprofessional behavior are the ones that are more likely to sexually harass.

Carrie Brown, a chief editor at Politico, echoed this sentiment by informing participants, “I look dimly on people who are not good to each other.” Proactive companies that want to avoid making headlines for the wrong reasons must look at developing soft skills for employees.

Not only are soft skills, like communication, linked to high performance, but making sure your employees are civil is a good way to stop power imbalances, which is a leading cause of sexual harassment.

Training Isn’t Enough

Although we’re a provider of online training solutions, we will freely admit that compliance training alone will do little to stop sexual harassment. Rather, as Sharon Masling of the EEOC says, “a holistic approach to stopping sexual harassment is crucial in developing a harassment-free workplace.” Holistic in this case means leadership – hiring more qualified women in places of leadership, but also having a diverse leadership team creates a more welcoming environment, where any sexual harassment is blatantly counter-cultural. As Lara Setrakian, CEO of News Deeply, said, “Diversity isn’t just a nice concept – it’s a practically useful way to find solutions.”

Embracing diversity from the top down gives entry-level employees who may otherwise feel helpless a powerful network of allies. A holistic approach also includes showing employees what acceptable workplace behavior looks like, which is why it’s so crucial to develop leaders who have integrity and professionalism in addition to outstanding technical skill.

Why Training Definitely Helps

Although training won’t be enough, the Power Shift Summit conversation did bring up an underutilized function of training: teaching skills to use ‘in the moment’ for women and other victims of workplace misconduct.

These skills include recognizing illegal harassment, knowing who to talk to, being educated about what is legal and illegal, and knowing strategies like documentation that eventually help get toxic colleagues out of the workplace. This type of proactivity not only benefits your employees, but it makes strong business sense.

In order to make compliance training seem less like punishment, consider implementing microlearning, which offers short, concentrated bursts of learning. We’ve seen this become an effective strategy among clients for compliance training, along with many other training topics.

What We Learned

Building a diverse, high-impact leadership team, training employees how to handle sexual misconduct at work, and proactively identifying situations where harassment can occur will help develop a culture where harassment is fully rejected.

With these great discussions, there’s one thing we know for certain: this conversation calls for action from all organizations. It’s time to act, and change workplace cultures to allow great thinkers to thrive and power imbalances to dissipate.

To see how you can help in the crusade against workplace harassment, check out our free, on-demand webinar hosted by Lisa Yankowitz!

harassment prevention webinar

Training & Development Industry Researcher | Derek researches, discusses, and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. He regularly interviews L&D and HR professionals, sharing their insight on trends and best practices that help organizations create stronger training programs, and help to grow their employees and their business.