Preventing Sexual Harassment: What Companies Can Do


The “me too” campaign has ushered in a flood of sexual harassment allegations against prominent men, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. The attention has forced businesses to examine approaches to preventing and addressing harassment.

But whose job is it to make sure that rank-and-file workers are protected against sexual harassment? And what can companies do to make sure that they’re not harboring habitual harassers and, ultimately, create a culture that prevents harassment from happening in the first place?

“There’s no one strategy that is most effective,” says William Tarnow, a partner at the law firm of Neal Gerber Eisenberg. “In many respects it boils down to communicating a message that is clear and consistent with the company’s culture. For some companies that will involve formalized training through third parties discussing workplace culture and harassment issues. For others, that will involve periodically reminding employees about the handbook and conducting informal check-in meetings with HR.

“At the end of the day, it’s about ensuring that your employees within your company feel like they work in a safe environment and can report questions or concerns they have to management.”

Carol Semrad, principal of the human resources consulting firm C. Semrad & Associates, says it’s important to make sure everyone understands the rules, from leaders and managers of a company on down. But leading by behavior is also important.

“Beyond education is modeling – leaders that model good behavior and don’t allow off-color talk, and are willing to say ‘we don’t do that here’ if someone comes in and makes a remark or a new person comes onto the team and does something a little bit off color, it helps to have someone say in our culture ‘we don’t do that.’”

And this is not just about women, Semrad added. “Harassment happens in all directions. We’re all human, and there are no limitations as to where it can go. We’ve heard about it a lot from women because to some degree women are still equal footing in the workplace – we have to be mindful that harassment can take place between any two people regardless of gender or sexual orientation.”

Semrad and Tarnow join us in discussion, along with Elizabeth Summy, CEO of the Human Resources Management Association of Chicago.


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