A Response to Sexual Harassment: Cultivating a Culture of Civility

Sexual harassment accusations have been dominating the news lately.

Every week since the New York Times piece on Harvey Weinstein, more and more people have come forward to share their stories and expose those who have sexually harassed them.

The amount of sexual harassment claims that have been revealed over the past couple of months is astonishing. However, this increased awareness is allowing for more victims to vocalize and report what happened to them, which is encouraging and is hopefully a pivotal cultural shift around this topic.  

The past couple of months I’ve been thinking about this topic and why, after Title VII was passed so many years ago, we are still hearing about these stories. One component that we may need to rethink is related to understanding what types of cultures are inhibiting people from sharing concerns or speaking up when they witness something discriminatory or harassing in nature. While most organizations have training and policies on anti-harassment and anti-discrimination topics, there are still individuals who don’t report. Therefore, it is likely important for us to go a step further and focus on creating a culture of civility.

Your workplace culture is how the values, beliefs, traditions, and attitudes in your organization come to life. It’s how your employees behave, communicate, and interact, and it’s what makes your organization unique from every other workplace.

Culture happens every time you open your mouth. It is influenced by what you allow, what you permit, and what you condone.

With this in mind, ensuring leaders are fostering a culture of civility and respect is key in today’s workplace.

So, what does that look like? Here are four specific ways to create this kind of culture.

1. Be Considerate

Everyone benefits from being considerate to each other. Creating a positive culture starts with the way each individual acts, so work on being considerate to set that standard. Negative words and actions hurt, so make sure your employees are building each other up, instead of tearing down, by communicating and conducting yourself respectfully and correctly.

Everyone wants to feel valued, respected, and important. A culture of respect means treating people the way you would want to be treated, no matter the situation.

Believe it or not, employee happiness and organizational financial results are tied to a strong, positive workplace culture. When you create an environment that is motivating, respectful and pleasant, your employees pick up on it.

This can be shown in the following:

  • Workplace practices, policies, and philosophies.
  • Leadership, mission, vision, and values.
  • Work environment, dress, acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
  • Work ethic and productivity standards.
  • Professional standards of communication and behavior.

2. Offer Civility Training

Almost every organization offers harassment training, but that may not always be enough. Harassment training usually shows the extreme behaviors, but even negative behavior that isn’t considered “harassment” can be detrimental to a culture.

That’s why it’s beneficial to go beyond the normal training and offer a course in civility training. This seeks to present the concept in a different way and show how important and valuable being civil and treating others with respect is in the workplace. This also helps foster a culture where it’s expected and natural to be nice to each other, and it even starts with who you hire.

3. Establish Your Organization’s Values

Does your organization have overall values that are communicated to all of your employees? If not, then it’s time to create them. Your values define who you are and what you stand for.

Creating and sharing your values shows your employees how they should act at work. Your values should include something along the lines of following professional standards and moral principles. Make it clear that your workplace culture is focused on treating co-workers and customers with respect and kindness.

4. Have an Open-Door Policy

Organizations need to foster a workplace where employees can feel safe, but also feel safe to report anything that may happen.

An open-door policy lets your employees know that they can come to you with issues, and you will listen and help resolve them. This helps develop a relationship that’s mutually respectful, and produces a culture that takes what their employees say seriously.

In addition to an open-door policy, there should be multiple outlets for employees to report any kind of harassment. These outlets could be the employee’s supervisor, their supervisor’s supervisor, or an HR person. The goal here is for employees to always feel comfortable to bring something up and have it addressed seriously in the form of an objective and timely investigation.

Creating a culture where employees are respectful, civil, and kind to each other starts with communication and setting an example. If your executives exude this behavior, the employees will follow suit. At the same time, communicating your organization’s overall values to your employees helps everyone be on the same page, and work together to foster a culture of professionalism and dignity towards one another.

Are your organization’s values reflected in a culture of civility? 

Anne Barry

Anne Barry is the Sr. HR Services Region Manager at Oasis. She possesses more than 13 years of HR and leadership experience, currently leading a team of HR professionals who help managers and employees navigate their HR challenges. She's best known for identifying unique employment-related challenges and working with her clients and team members to create a positive resolution. She earned her Master's degree in Public Administration from Drake University.


December 15, 2017

Posted by

Anne Barry