Sexual harassment, bullying, and the glass ceiling are real and tough challenges for women to overcome. With Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in 2016, followed by Harvey Weinstein and the unending parade of sexual predators that continues in Hollywood, the media, Congress, and elsewhere, women and men alike are angry, disappointed, and at odds as to what to do. What is best the path(s) forward?
The early gamut of reactions and suggestions range from:
- An “all men are guilty advocacy” as payback
- To let’s train these behaviors away
- Encouraging women to file lawsuits, and in some cases, to get at opposition groups and big money
- Outright confusion
- Avoidance of this thorny issue
I have been interviewed recently by dozens of nationally syndicated radio and media hosts (who were mostly conservative men) due to my researched based book release late last year, “Fresh Insights to End the Glass Ceiling.”[i] After navigating through the tough questions and the pundit’s sometimes adversarial positions, I have prepared both a “wish list” and a “to do” list to help us move out of the fog and turmoil of our emotions to solutions that will work when.
First, my Wish List:
- Respect & Dignity for All. It is easy to say, but doing it is another matter. Boiling it down to the core, employees, and stakeholders should be treated with respect and dignity, always and without exception. Few, if any, employers hold true to this essential core value. Leaders and other power players are not held accountable for showing respect towards others. Accountability would cure a great many of the ills – particularly when it comes to sexual harassment and bullying.
- Stop Rewarding Over-the-Top Aggressive Behaviors of Men. Recognize the fact that women often outperform men as leaders, although the decision makers seem to refuse to consider the growing body of data on this in any serious way. In fact, they look the other way. Studies regularly show that women are as qualified as men to serve as leaders. Yet, over-the-top aggressive behaviors by men continue to be rewarded with promotions into key leadership posts. Meanwhile these behaviors are often ineffective and hurt the bottom line. Further, men with over-the-top aggressive behaviors (as Egotists, Rule Breakers & Upstagers per the research findings shared in my book) are more prone to behaviors of intimidation and harassment, so this exacerbates these risks to the organization as well as continues to be a reason the glass ceiling stays in place.
- Women will not use these serious gender issues as a springboard for political, media or personal vendettas. Finger pointing, the blame game, false accusations or frivolous lawsuits, or taking political advantage are not the answer to sexual harassment and bullying. Let’s be objective in our investigations. Lets’ stamp out problems quickly where they exist. Let’s be honest and decent. Let’s demonstrate the change we want to see in others. Also, let’s not intimidate the men leaders, executives, and professionals we must work with to end the glass ceiling. Women, let’s be strong, assertive and fair. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot with misplaced hysteria, anger or allegations.
- Companies and other dedicated organizations will lead the way to positive change; so that within a decade, sexual harassment, bullying, and the glass ceiling become problems of the past. Eventually, Hollywood, the media and DC may follow suit (kicking and screaming)!
My “To Do” or Actions to Make It Happen List:
- Adopt clear policies and hold leaders and others accountable for showing every stakeholder respect and dignity. Believe it or not, even in firing situations, respect can and should be shown. Leaders and HR may disagree strongly with specific behaviors, but they still need to show respect for the individual. Common courtesy, decency and manners in society seem to be dwindling away. These core values need to be in full force, always. If leaders want to up the game beyond showing basic respect, they can demonstrate that they value each and every employee. Imagine that! Imagine leaders showing they are delighted that their employees chose to work for them and not their competitor. This goes a long way to building positive working relationships where harassment, intimidation and bullying are completely out of place. It also makes inappropriate behaviors easier to spot and eliminate. And, yes, fire those who refuse to show respect and dignity for others. Perhaps warn once, but beyond that, leadership must act to support this critical value.
- Measure true talent at an accurate and deep level. This can be achieved by adding scientific measures to the talent management and development processes. Then, hire, promote and develop talent according to people’s natural strengths, gifts, risks and needs. We must stop automatically selecting and promoting people with processes that do not work. Changing the way, we identify, hire, promote and develop talent is the catalyst to change. Even more problematic on a grander scale is that studies for decades have consistently shown that 50% to 75% of leaders are ineffective[ii]. This means that only 25% to 50% are effective. We must flip these dismal performance numbers around and quickly. The only way to do this is to STOP doing what we have been doing. The quick answer is to measure true talent and then hire, promote and develop based on that data along with a thorough vetting process. Let’s not continue hiring, promoting or developing people or leaders based on intuition, sound bites, degrees, club or group association, smooth talk, interviewing skills, degrees, or many of the typical things that punch people tickets. It has to be game over because ticket punching is failing us resulting in ineffective leadership and, in many instances, inappropriate behaviors.
- Let’s build stronger and more open working relationships amongst men and women. A recent Dilbert[iii] cartoon got into the mix on this:
Scott Adams is a mastermind at being in touch with the psyche of the American business culture and of just what people are thinking. Even many of the radio show hosts who were men, suggested that men in business will likely now begin to avoid women more, particularly for any one-on-one meetings or mentoring. By avoiding women, they cannot be charged with sexual harassment. This is a huge mistake for businesses. Pushing women away and isolating them more, particularly in leadership roles, will have a devastating impact on women’s progress and for ending the glass ceiling. From a bottom line business performance standpoint, with the research showing that when more women are in leadership roles, companies are more profitable. Therefore, avoiding women is bad for business.
If we go back to the basics of treating all people with respect and dignity, with leaders valuing all stakeholders, men and women can work together productively while building great working relationships. Let’s not move away from this issue, let’s move together to make sure sexual harassment, bullying and the glass ceiling become memories of the past.
[ii] Parsons, Nancy E., Leadership is Broken, Presentation for HR.com, Institute for Human Resource, Integrated Talent Management, August, 2012.
[iii] Adams, Scott, Dilbert, January 2018, used with paid permission by copyright owner.