How the #metoo crisis can model an inspiring cooperative business world.
Here is the reality: Wherever there is power, there is potential for abuse. It has always been like that, and for a very long time, I accepted it willy-nilly.
But #metoo woke me up. After seeing this hashtag used millions of times all over the world, I was forced to remember all the unwanted advances, sexism, and harassment I have experienced in my professional life. On a personal level, this experience opened my eyes to how not okay these experiences were.
On a professional level—as a C-level Strategy Executive with expertise on mitigating criminal risks—it reminded me how powerfully internal misconduct crises can derail an organization or destroy a brand. While companies so often focus their criminal risk mitigation on things like cyber attacks, fraud, espionage, and counterfeiting, unethical behavior by employees is a strategic issue that needs to be addressed.
So, what is the #metoo lesson for the corporate world? What should we learn? How can we move on from this crisis—and create safer workplaces for all moving forward? Here are a few thoughts on things every brand could stand to learn from this movement.
Accept That it is Probably Happening in Your Organization
Just because you haven’t heard about it, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened. CEOs, boards of directors, executives, entrepreneurs, and other business leaders need to come to terms with the fact that sexual harassment is likely happening in their organization. Just consider the data: While it is hard to nail down exact numbers, it’s estimated that at least one in four people experience sexual harassment at work and that 75% of those who experience harassment don’t report it. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that most victims deny or downplay the gravity of their experience and try to ignore, forget, or endure their colleague’s inappropriate behavior—likely for fear of retaliation if they do bring these allegations to the table.
If you stick your head in the sand and pretend these things aren’t happening, it won’t make them go away—it will just make the consequences worse when they do come to light. Come to terms with the fact that sexual harassment is probably happening or will happen in your organization, and start being proactive about preventing it.
Don’t Ask How Much it Will Cost—Ask How Much You Have to Lose
Brands spend millions to get consumers to love them, but more often than not they misunderstand that consumers care about ethics, too. Even if the behavior happening within a company is not “illegal,” it may condemnable. When the poor social, environmental, or ethical practices of a brand are exposed, the reaction of consumers can be vicious and the downfall rapid, often hurting more than legal punishments.
Every company needs to investigate and fight unethical behaviors and toxic culture as a matter of survival because of the serious consequences for their business in term of reputation and results. Of course, executives don’t have control over all the events that impact their company, but it is in their control to prevent, mitigate, and prepare for these risks.
Cut to the Core for Long-Lasting Solutions
While there is no magical formula to creating a perfect strategy to protect employees against internal workplace violence, a company with a culture of deviant behavior is more likely to have these sorts of attacks. Bad corporate behavior increases the risk of bad employee actions. But, this can be controlled with the help of an organizational focus on ethical business practices and a system of checks and balances to prevent any single leader from taking advantage of his position.
Instead of having a reactive response to sexual harassment risks with “quick patch” solutions, why not get to the core and engage in a cultural reset? By creating a proactive culture of ethical and equitable treatment, it is much easier to manage and mitigate these sorts of risks moving forward. This sort of “always do what is right” spirit makes it easier to do the right thing and much harder to do the wrong thing.
Help Everyone Feel Safer Together
Transparency, responsibility, and egalitarianism are core values that reduce workplace violence and conflicts. By creating a culture where everyone feels safe together, companies will not only win trust (from their employees, consumers, and stakeholders) but also build resilience, minimize the risk of disruption and encourage cooperation and innovation.
The success of companies relies on their ability to set up strong business ethical core values. There is no room for error. Don’t wait for wake up calls—be willing to change now. Even if it's hard, it's worthwhile.