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Harvey Weinstein had built a legacy that would have been remembered for timeless films and top quality entertainment. But not anymore. Thanks to the recent uprising of women bringing to light their inappropriate experiences with him, his legacy will be remembered much differently. And as more and more women build the courage to stand up against Harvey Weinstein it raises questions of how many other workplaces have experienced such incidents?

A poll conducted by YouGov in which over 4900 people were surveyed found that 1 in 4 adults in USA have witnessed a colleague being sexually harassed. You could only imagine what the results would be if this poll was conducted in the Asian market where talk of such issues is still very taboo. Unfortunately, women in Asia face stiff societal pressures which, for the most part, buries any such allegation from being raised. Then it’s also the strain such allegations will have on their reputation that holds them back. Not to mention, globally, women feel that bringing to light these incidents can negatively impact their careers. Its reasons like these that have prevented many women from speaking out about the truth. But not anymore.

If one can extract any positive from this whole Harvey Weinstein incident it is that people have actually started to speak out about their experiences of assault and harassment at the workplace. Once you’re over the shock of the magnitude and multitude of incidents you’ll start to realize that this is a new beginning of awareness. An awareness that sexual harassment and assault is real and it’s, unfortunately, wide spread.

What is Harassment?

From a broad perspective, workplace harassment is considered any action that takes into regard religion, race, age, gender or skin color and hampers an employee’s ability to succeed or creates a hostile work environment. Behaviors that are racist, gender biased or vulgar all fall under workplace harassment.

Sexual harassment is a form of harassment, typically of sexual nature and inappropriate behavior. However, sexual harassment isn’t just limited to this. What most of us don’t realize is that unwelcome verbal or physical behavior also creates a hostile work environment which hence is deemed as sexual harassment.

It doesn’t take a lot to create a hostile work environment. Sometimes you’ll hear of ‘jokes’ being made and comments being passed which aren’t well thought out. They’ll be crude, gender targeting, discriminatory, chauvinistic or even racist. And while the initial intent is lighthearted, the outcome could very easily be offense taken by a colleague. That’s how serious the issue is and why it warrants caution.

What Can You Do?

Think about a workplace where everyone’s comfortable being who they are. Where people feel respected and safe. Where everyone’s treated equally and working harmoniously. Where harassment and discrimination have no place. Would you imagine this workplace to be productive and successful? I sure believe so. Isn’t this the kind of workplace you’re striving to create? I sure hope so.

And here’s how:

1. Values Enriched Policies

Develop policies that are conducive to the environment you’re aiming to foster, i.e. safe and nondiscriminatory. Your policies should have provisions to address real life issues such as workplace harassment and discrimination. Along with this it should not only safeguard people’s best interests but in the event something adverse were to occur it should outline procedures on how it’s managed. The key is to set boundaries (zero tolerance to harassment and discrimination of any kind) and define parameters that encourage acceptable behavior.

2. Educate & Create Awareness

Having policies without interpreting it won’t serve the purpose you’re aiming for. People need to be aware of these policies, of their rights and how to use it. Essentially, the key is to educate people on particular acceptable and unacceptable behavior. We all know workplace and sexual harassment exists, however, believe it or not, there are ambiguities as to what defines it. Develop programs and learning opportunities that educate your employees about the definition, meaning, behaviors, and repercussions of harassment and discrimination.

3. Create Channels to Communicate

So you’ve educated and developed policies, however, creating a 100% harassment-free workplace is never guaranteed. Unfortunately, there’ll be instances where harassment may occur which is why establishing a clear communication channel is imperative. What happens if your employee is harassed or discriminated against? How do they communicate their grievance and to who? What’s the procedure going forward? Your aim here is to open the doors of communication for everyone and giving your employees the comfort that they’re being heard, that harassing behavior won’t be tolerated and that actions will be taken.

4. Make a Stand

When it comes to workplace harassment nothing speaks more volumes of your values than walking-the-talk. From a governance perspective you could have all the policies and procedures in place, however, all that is cosmetic fulfillment if you’re not going to truly make a stand. Back your values with action. Give your employees and everyone else the confidence that you mean it when you say you have zero tolerance towards harassment and discrimination. How you handle these situations and what steps you take to eradicate your workplace of harassment is what makes all the difference.

If I were to ask who’s experienced or witnessed harassment the results would be shocking – much like we’ve seen in the case of Harvey Weinstein. Instead I leave you with this thought – what steps have you taken to avoid and discourage workplace harassment and discrimination?