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Statement of Society for Human Resource Management

Industry Leaders Roundtable Discussion on Harassment Prevention
March 20, 2019

SHRM-the Society for Human Resource Management-appreciates the opportunity to continue the important conversation on addressing workplace harassment at the Industry Leaders Roundtable Discussion on Harassment Prevention. 

SHRM, with 300,000+ members who together impact the lives of more than 115 million employees, recognizes the unique role that HR plays in preventing and addressing workplace harassment. Like many other industries represented in this room, SHRM has spent the last year digging deep to understand where HR professionals can tighten gaps in workplace policies and how we can improve workplace cultures. And, like the EEOC, SHRM recognizes that it is culture, not compliance, that guides workplace conduct. Rules, education and training are important, but they will never be enough.

SHRM has made a commitment to keep the conversation and education on this topic going with our members and the public. Workplace harassment is a key issue that falls squarely within what we call SHRM's "sweet spot"-issues at the intersection of work, the worker and the workplace.

SHRM currently is providing programming on how to prevent and address workplace harassment. At our 2019 Employment Law and Legislative conference, which is wrapping up today, 700 HR professionals had access to sessions on workplace civility, inclusion, workplace investigations that can improve culture, and anti-harassment strategies. We will have similar programming at our June Annual Conference which welcomes over 16,000 HR professionals. SHRM also has a dedicated webpage on workplace harassment featuring tools and resources.

Even Legislators Need Workplace Harassment Solutions

But we don't want to talk only to our members. Last year, SHRM's President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., testified in Sacramento before the California Joint Subcommittee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response at a hearing titled "Best Practices for Culture Change on Sexual Harassment."

The newly created Joint Subcommittee was established in early January 2018 and marked the first time the California Senate and Assembly worked together to examine how sexual harassment complaints are handled in the State Capitol. The leaders of both chambers agreed to form the Subcommittee in response to a growing number of complaints against sitting legislators in California and to critics who noted that the Senate and Assembly had separate policies to handle sexual harassment complaints.

SHRM, the only HR business group asked to participate in the hearing, was invited to share our perspective on this important workplace issue. Ultimately, the state's Joint Committee on Rules unanimously adopted the Subcommittee's new "Policy on Appropriate Workplace Conduct: Creating a Culture of Respect, Civility, and Diversity." As of February 1, 2019, the measure supersedes both chambers' policies on sexual harassment. In addition, the legislature has established a new Workplace Conduct Unit.

State legislatures are not only law-making bodies; they are workplaces. Recognizing this, SHRM arranged to address the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) on workplace culture. This engagement offered the opportunity to address head-on how complicated power dynamics like those inherent in state legislatures need to change and how HR has a role to play in bringing about that change.

Leading with Data

SHRM also conducts research to inform our efforts and track how HR, employer and employee perceptions change over time.

SHRM's "Harassment-Free Workplace" research series shows some promising trends. Our most current findings indicate that preemptive measures are being taken in workplaces. In the year following the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the rise of the #MeToo movement, our data show that a third of executives reported changing their behavior to avoid actions that others might perceive as sexual harassment. Executives report being more mindful of language in the workplace, avoiding specific topics or joking, changing policies and trainings. Some have even responded with more extreme measures, such as disallowing female subordinates to have male mentors-a practice SHRM does not recommend as it runs counter to the goal of inclusive workplace cultures.

Further, 62 percent of employer respondents are currently assessing their culture and identifying potential risks for sexual harassment, and 44 percent are developing or revising accountability measures.

Policies vs. Perceptions

While we believe the tide is starting to shift, there's more to do as employers work to create healthy workplace cultures. Another key statistic from our most recent research indicates that while 72 percent of U.S. employees are happy with their employers' efforts, more than one-third of employees still believe their workplaces foster sexual harassment.

This perception has bottom-line impacts, as well as implications for corporate culture. Executives report that when a culture is perceived as fostering sexual harassment, morale, engagement and productivity decrease. The same executives report that allowing perceptions of sexual harassment to persist in the workplace leads to a hostile work environment with higher turnover.

This is why workplaces must also address any problematic behaviors and situations that never rise to the legal definition of harassment. There is a vast gray area between what the law calls harassment and other behaviors that still damage employees, derail their careers and demoralize workforces.

Our research also investigated what HR professionals believe are the most effective actions for influencing workplace culture and behaviors to foster safe environments for all employees. The most effective action measured was enhancing the ability for HR to investigate allegations without the potential for retaliation, with 45 percent of respondents rating it very or extremely effective. Other highly effective actions were independent reviews of workplace misconduct investigations by HR and increasing diversity of all types in leadership roles.

We have a much clearer roadmap of where the workplace needs to go and the changes HR must make to improve culture and communication. These include:

  • Adding workplace civility training components to encompass behaviors that may not meet the definition of illegal conduct;
  • Tailoring training to the organization's workforce rather than relying on generic, out-of-the-box programming;
  • Ensuring that culture starts at the top but doesn't stop there, involving all employees in living the organization's culture;
  • Adding training to onboarding activities for ALL staff, including the executive team.

In addition, HR professionals are looking to now tackle issue in these key areas:

  • Handling misconduct outside the physical workplace-happy hours, work travel, online;
  • Handling anonymous complaints;
  • Identifying effective practices for communication and follow-up after investigations are complete so all employees know that complaints have been addressed.

If they didn't fully understand it before, employers today are recognizing that workplace harassment wreaks havoc on an organization's ability to hire and keep talent. Even if a situation never reaches the level of a complaint, but it pushes good people out or down, employers have lost the talent game.

The #MeToo movement has been a call to action for organizational leaders to assess their workplaces to ensure they have a healthy culture and live that culture in all they do. SHRM is committed to continuous education for HR professionals and to keeping the conversation going on the importance of strong workplace policies and stronger workplace cultures.