You may know that workplace harassment remains a significant risk to organizations, challenging leaders to take new measures to protect both their employees and their organizations. But did you know that corporate boards have an essential role to play as well? Boards can require that harassment prevention be a priority for leadership, ensure that related efforts are included in ESG (environmental, social, governance) reporting and serve as chief proponents of a culture of accountability. When boards become pro-active leaders in harassment prevention, workplaces experience more inclusive and accepting environments, become more productive, enjoy better communication and collaboration and position their organizations for great success.
Let’s take a look at why harassment is a pressing issue that organizations must address and how boards can play a pivotal role in creating workplaces that are safe for everyone.
How harassment impacts workplace culture, productivity, and the well-being of employees
When workplace harassment exists, the damage to the organization can go far and wide, contributing to lower employee morale, decreased productivity and spiraling retention rates. Even as organizations have made significant progress in recent years, harassment continues to be an issue. A research report from All Voices indicated that 44% of employees surveyed have experienced harassment at work, 52% have not felt psychologically safe at work and at least 34% have left a job because of unresolved harassment issues.
- Have experienced harassment at work44%
- have not felt psychologically safe at work52%
- have left a job because of unresolved harassment issues34%
Source: All Voices
Aside from the obvious human toll, harassment poses significant threats to companies in terms of legal, cultural and reputation risks. Harassment cases can cost millions in legal fees and the harm to a company’s reputation is incalculable. Research by UCLA found that a single harassment claim “can be enough to dramatically shape public perception of a company and elicit perceptions of structural unfairness. In the public’s mind, there seems to be no such thing as a bad apple.” The researchers suggest that companies need to be responsive and proactive when it comes to harassment claims, “which not only benefits alleged victims, but public perception as well.” With more than 10,000 cases of sexual harassment documented in 2021 alone not including the many other types of harassment that goes unreported -one thing is clear: employers need to do more needs—and boards can lead the way. it starts at the top.
The risks associated with workplace harassment and the advantages of having an informed board
How seriously a company takes harassment depends largely on the value that leaders put into fostering an inclusive culture. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “An organization’s culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization… Leaders in successful companies live their cultures every day and go out of their way to communicate their cultural identities to employees as well as prospective new hires. They are clear about their values and how those values define their organizations and determine how the organizations run.” This best practice applies to all corporate leaders, and it means that boards, at the highest levels of leadership, can and must be part of the harassment-prevention equation.