Avoiding Harassment Issues at Work

I want to start a business someday. It’s my big career dream, and I think I can make it happen. I’m willing to work hard to get it done, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was a little worried about the risks. I’m very worried about the kind of stuff that won’t be in my own control, since I’ll be at the top of the company, like employee conduct and the sexual harassment kind of stuff that has been a big problem for companies in the #metoo era. However, some of my friends think I’m being insensitive or that I’m wrong to worry. Experts, what do you say?

Your friends may be put off because they believe that you minimize the importance or justifications of the #metoo movement. If you intend to become a business leader in the future, minimizing that movement is not something that you want to do. The #metoo movement is a response to widespread sexual misconduct and a broader culture of sexism that exists everywhere in our culture, from corporate boardrooms to Hollywood movie shoots. In business, women face serious challenges. They get less funding when they try to start businesses, they experience discrimination in workplaces and discouraged in some academic areas, and they tend to get sexually harassed while on the job.

Of course, you’ve made it clear that you’re not concerned about your own behavior (and that’s good, as you would not want to behave in any way that would make you a potential target of a sexual misconduct allegation). Instead, you’re concerned about your employees. However, remember this: as a business leader, the responsibility for the culture of your company falls on you. You cannot control every action that every individual employee may choose to take on their own, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not able to control the tone and policies of your own business. When scandal struck Uber, for instance, it was easy to see that the incidents in question were not isolated. They were part of a broader problem with Uber’s corporate culture, and the blame for that fell right on the shoulders of Uber’s leadership.

If you intend to run a business, you need to think about how you can control the norms and policies of your own company in a way that allows you to make full use of your employees and their talent (regardless of their gender, race, or other characteristics) while protecting those employees from unwanted confrontations and harassment.

The good news is that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn more about how to do this as you make your way through school (and, maybe, through a graduate program in business administration or a related focus). You’ll also have plenty of tools available to you when you end up running your dream company, including employee training contractors.

Employee training is one of the most important things that you can invest in as a business leader. Training employees in on-the-job skills can make them more valuable. Training employees in safety rules and procedures can make them safer (and your business less vulnerable to accidents and lawsuits that cost you wonderful people and valuable capital). Also, training employees in harassment policies and proper workplace conduct will address the very concern that you laid out in your letter. With harassment training available to you, there’s no reason to imagine that you couldn’t take extensive steps to protect your business and your dream from the misconduct of a few bad actors. If you’re an effective leader at the top of your business, you can keep things from getting out of hand!

So try not to worry too much about the possibility that you might hire a bad apple. Instead, think about how you might shape your company’s culture, hiring practices, diversity, and policies in order to ensure the best possible future for you, your company, and the many professionals that you’ll come into contact with during your long and successful career.

“Don’t do it!” – HM1 Alburg