According to the U.S. EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), on average, only about 6-13% of those who experience harassment in the workplace will go on to file a formal complaint. This figure is startling, as it means that the vast majority of instances will go unreported and—as a result—unpunished.
One of the most successful ways that offices can work to reverse this unsettling trend is by creating a culture of accountability, across all departments and job titles.
Accountability of Victims
This is the first order of business. Individuals who may experience sexual harassment in the workplace need to feel as though they have a safe place to come forward. They need to know that they can safely report an occurrence in a way where their identity or reputation will not be compromised. There should be a standard system of order in place so that employees know exactly who they should reach out to, ideally someone directly in HR as opposed to having to go through a third party (e.g. their manager).
Accountability of Perpetrators
When HR receives a complaint—or complaints—about a particular individual, they need to act accordingly. This means swiftly, fairly, and effectively. If a perpetrator goes unpunished, it tells others that they can get away with the same thing. It also tells victims that their complaints will not be taken seriously. It enforces a culture of oppression. Keep in mind that treatment needs to be fair across levels and departments, e.g. someone can’t get a pass for acting inappropriately just because they have been with the company for a long time or are at a high level.
Accountability of Colleagues
Workplace sexual harassment doesn’t always mean that an individual is sexually or verbally assaulted in an isolated occasion; it could mean regular actions or statements are made by an individual or group of individuals that are insulting or offensive to others. If an employee witnesses inappropriate behavior happening to anyone, they need to feel that they not only have the right—but the responsibility—to speak up.
Accountability of the Firm
A firm’s harassment policy is not something that can be set and then forgotten; in order to be effective, it must be checked in on regularly. Best practice would be to do an anonymous survey every year or quarter in order to see how employees are feeling about the culture of the office and the system in place. Check to make sure that your employees feel like they have a voice. Beyond that, regularly ask for feedback to see if there are other ideas that can be implemented or additional concerns that should be addressed.
Accountability Leads to Stronger Workplace Culture
When you effectively instill accountability across your office, you will enjoy a great range of benefits. Overall, as communication improves, your employees will feel as though their voices matter and can make a difference—in all aspects of the workplace. What’s more, employees will start to look out for one another more, not only as it comes to areas of safety and accountability, but also when it comes to client deliverables and a high quality work standard.