Sexual harassment in the workplace needs a tick, not a big stick


As momentum from the global #MeToo movement reaches New Zealand shores – signalled by recent allegations of a culture of sexual harassment in the legal sector – it may be time for this country to introduce the gender equality equivalent of the gay community’s Rainbow Tick.

Incentives always work very well, and a ‘gender equality tick’ programme may be a compelling incentive to drive the change in culture we need to achieve real behaviour change.

Rules and disciplinary processes are necessary to protect people, but as a tool for enduring cultural change within an organisation, they are unlikely to be enough. The drawback of the disciplinary process – while necessary – is that people are too afraid to speak up because they think of the social cost to themselves or they are afraid that it might destroy their careers.

Far more impactful than just punishing the bad behaviour would be a vision and celebration of mutual respect and equality within the workplace – something people can aspire towards, together with the tools and education to achieve it.

In my experience – in working with companies to achieve behaviour change through communication – where undesirable behaviour exists, it is often so ingrained in the culture that most people are oblivious to it or they have accepted it has the norm.

Time after time I’ve seen how it is rewards-based systems that achieve better transformation. The equivalent of a Rainbow Tick will be a greater motivation for change. The tick, combined with education – and a few simple measures that people can take to improve their company culture – could rapidly change the current situation.

A ‘gender equality tick’ system would help both prospective employees, and customers, make informed decisions about whether or not they want to do business with an organisation – itself a strong incentive to drive real transformation in the workplace.

Consumer choice drives business decision making. When the consumer has a choice between two equally good products or services, they may be more inclined to choose a company that is socially responsible. So, when all the information is out in the open, then companies are motivated to do the right thing.

Both men and women need to feel safe in the workplace. Processes and workplace regulations are important but change needs to happen because people want it to happen and they’re ready for it.

The Rainbow Tick (http://www.rainbowtick.co.nz/whats-rainbow-tick/) is a certification mark awarded to organisations that complete a Diversity and Inclusion certification process regarding whether or not workplaces understand, value and welcome sexual and gender diversity.

I believe the Rainbow Tick works because it allows organisations to celebrate their diversity and inclusion. It allows them to tell the public that they’ve got it right, and it delivers both education and achievable steps for organisations to follow so that they can get it right – it moves beyond blame to solving, which can only be good for everyone.

If an organisation has a vision and enrols its staff in that vision, change will follow. Enforcement in the workplace can only treat the symptoms, but culture change is far more valuable.

Leave a Reply