Having a Policy Is Not Enough. Understanding is Key in the Wake of #MeToo


In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many organizations are going back to their policies on sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation and ensuring that they’re strong enough. Elizabeth Bille, general counsel and corporate secretary for the Society for Human Resources Management, notes that HR professionals are reviewing their policies and asking questions such as, “Does the policy fully address all the behaviors we’re seeking to prevent that constitute sexual harassment? Do we have enough reporting mechanisms so individuals have not just one but several people they could go to to [sic] report concerns? Do we have an investigation procedure in place that’s ready to be used in the case of sexual harassment?” This is a great place to start. 

However, in our experience, it is not enough to have the policy and reporting mechanisms in place. Nor is it enough to send out the policy in a company-wide email. A policy is only effective if employees understand the policy and know how to use it. Otherwise, the policy is just words on a page (or screen). 

A Boston-area company recently reached out to TMG to help them do just that – ensure organization-wide understanding of the new policy, address questions, and reinforce how to use it. Loraine Della Porta and I created an eight-hour day that we ran several times so the entire company could attend the training. The goal was to make the policy a living document that everyone understands and knows how to use. 

We began the day with some basic definitions. What is sexual harassment? What is discrimination? What categories of people are protected and what does that mean? What is retaliation? We then moved into a discussion of the company’s policy and, using generic workplace vignettes, had small groups discuss whether the policy had been violated and how the policy might apply. 

The second half of the day was dedicated to building communication skills. How do you talk about sexual harassment and discrimination? If you’re a manager and you need to tell one of your immediate employees that s/he has been accused of violating the policy, how do you do it in a constructive way? What is the difference between blame and contribution and why does it matter? Again, we used workplace vignettes and videos written to highlight common behaviors and scenarios. 

What was perhaps most beneficial were the small group discussions. Here we heard snippets of conversation like, “I don’t see it the same way. What’s important for me is . . . .” Or “I would call this harassment because . . . .” Having co-workers talk with each other about what might constitute harassment or discrimination, how they perceive the impact of certain behaviors or different ways to interpret the same actions helps to create shared understandings and dialogue.   

If you’re interested in learning more, exploring how to roll out your revised policy, or helping your employees understand and use current policy, give us a call. We’ll happily walk through possibilities that meet your needs and interests so that your employees not only know you have a policy, but they know how to use it.