In the past few months, many business leaders, journalists, politicians, actors, and others have been called to task for workplace sexual harassment. Throughout my 20 years of providing harassment prevention training to businesses, I saw the pain and suffering harassment brings to its victims (and to those falsely accused), to the business, and even to the harasser.
Bringing this behavior into the light is a good thing, and it provides Christian business leaders with a fresh opportunity to provide moral leadership by creating and maintaining ethical work environments.
Having a harassment policy is important, but the key to prevention is godly respect toward employees, customers and suppliers—starting from the top-down. The world defines respect as “admiring someone for their qualities, or achievements.” Godly respect esteems people simply because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, formed in the image and likeness of God, whether they know him or not.
While leaders cannot control an employee’s choice to behave badly, they can and should work to create an environment which makes that choice unacceptable. Here are some prevention tips:
Respect the harassment policy. A policy is just a piece of paper unless you follow it. Make sure the policy includes a confidential way for employees to report policy violations. Investigate all complaints thoroughly and get outside help when needed.
Respect the harassment prevention training. Don’t allow managers or employees to skip training “because they have more important things to do.” In one successful company, the top management team chose to deliver the training; it sent a powerful message, and no one failed to attend.
Model respectful body language. In a business environment, the most respectful distance between people is the length of a handshake. Since a person’s “personal space” can differ based on culture and experience, anything closer could be considered harassing. While we may be used to giving “holy hugs” to those in church and to comforting an upset friend by rubbing their shoulder, it’s just not appropriate in the workplace. And if you are part of a group picture at work, keep your hands folded, at your side, or in your pockets…not around someone’s body.
Model respectful speech. In Ephesians 4:29, St. Paul encourages us to say, “…only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” He also gives a very clear description of the type of environment leaders should strive to create in the workplace. As stated In Ephesians 5:4, “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”
Maintain a pure visual environment. Sexual harassment can also come from inappropriate workplace images. One restaurant/bar I worked with had a beverage supplier who kept bringing stand-up photo advertisements which could be viewed as demeaning to women. The leadership team told the supplier to stop bringing the advertising or they would change suppliers. It worked, with no loss of sales for the business.
Our workplaces should reflect the behavior outlined in Ephesians 5:3, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Business leaders set the tone for their company. How are you doing at yours?