Abuse and Discrimination Reporting: Stay on Top of Your D&I Efforts
When companies look at implementing diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs, it’s tempting to focus primarily on the pleasant aspects of the process. And to be sure, there are many, many pleasant aspects: seeking out and hiring top talent from diverse backgrounds; developing and implementing mentorship and training programs to help people advance their careers; promoting greater dialogue and idea sharing. These are all positive aspects of diversity and inclusion work.
Starting With Culture
Unfortunately, these positive elements are often only part of the picture, and they assume, to some extent, that a company is starting from scratch with its diversity and inclusion program. While starting from scratch might sound like the worst place to start from, many companies start off far worse.
Starting from scratch means their diversity and inclusion programs can be a blank slate—no positive substance to build off of, but also no negative baggage to address or bad habits to unlearn. Most companies aren’t in this position, though.
Instead, many companies find they have a lot of work to do addressing toxic behavior and attitudes and healing old wounds before—or at least while—they build all those positive elements we mentioned earlier. This is not always an enjoyable process, but it’s absolutely necessary. After all, strong cultures can’t be built on weak foundations.
One way that foundations become weak is through damage done by abuse and discrimination internally. Organizations need to not only lay the groundwork in terms of what they will, and will not, tolerate—they also need to encourage and support reports of misconduct, and take immediate action when they receive such reports.
Encouraging a Culture to Support Reporting of Misconduct
A crucially important part of any diversity and inclusion program is a culture that encourages and supports reports of misconduct, including abuse and discrimination. While reporting and addressing such claims is uncomfortable for everyone involved, reporting—and follow-through—are essential parts of the process.
Essential, but generally lacking, say experts. “Despite the high rates of sexual assault and harassment — affecting up to 90% of women in some industries — and pervasive discrimination based on race, gender, age, and sexuality — experienced or witnessed by 61% of U.S. employees — reporting rates remain extremely low,” writes Lily Zheng in an article for Harvard Business Review. “A report by the EEOC found that only 30% of employees experiencing harassment on the basis of gender, race, national origin, disability and other protected classes make internal complaints, and less than 15% file formal legal charges. A meta-analysis similarly found that fewer than one-third of workers even informally talked with a supervisor about the sexual harassment they experienced, and less than 25% filed formal reports with their employers.”
The problem with low levels of discrimination and abusive behavior is, of course, that unreported issues almost always go unaddressed. There are multiple reasons employees fail to report abuse or discrimination. For one, inappropriate conduct is often not so clear cut that it’s an obvious offense. Employees who see conduct falling into what they consider a gray area may err on the side of caution and not report the behavior for fear of being seen as overly sensitive. Additionally, many employees may fear formal or informal retaliation from the employee guilt of the misconduct or the organization as a whole.
Importance of Ongoing Education and Communication
Both of these issues can be mitigated substantially through internal education. Part of any diversity and inclusion program should include training on what conduct is inappropriate and what steps can and should be taken to address it. More informally, organizations should strive to create a culture that has a zero-tolerance policy for abusive or discriminatory behavior.
This is a long-term process that won’t happen overnight, but the results are well worth it to help eliminate underlying bias and toxic culture. Companies that truly start from scratch with their diversity and inclusion efforts often don’t know how fortunate they are to not be starting from a position that requires a great deal of healing and correction to get back to neutral.
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