To many of us, what is most shocking about the recent events involving Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Reilly is not the pervasive sexual harassment that has occurred for years and been ignored. But rather the abrupt shift in perception that this behavior is unacceptable, inappropriate and will not be tolerated in the workplace. That the most powerful people in their industries will be held accountable- even fired- for sexual harassment and sexual assault. So, how do you as business leaders respond to this new climate of accountability?
We think there is a lot to learn from our time spent in Kindergarten.
My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Winning (yes that was her real name) was a white headed little peach of a woman who smelled like Ponds Cold Cream and could belt out a rousing rendition of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad”. She also ran a very tight ship. What I remember most about this experience is that I felt safe, part of a nice group of kids, and excited to learn.
Kindergarten classroom rules and culture can be applied to your organization to foster a safe and respectful workplace environment where sexual harassment is not tolerated.
1) Keep Your Hands To Yourself – (and your penis in your pants)
Mrs. Winning had clear rules and everyone was expected to know and follow them. Kindergarten teachers spend most of September teaching their students the rules. “Line up against the wall without pushing before going out to recess”, “Ask permission before you take something that doesn’t belong to you”, and “keep your hands to yourselves”. These rules were clearly stated and repeated over and over and over so that everyone understood what was expected in the classroom.
Often times, rules of behavior in the workplace are not stated clearly and organizations can run into trouble. The difference between sexual harassment and “just being friendly” might be confusing to some, so clearly stated rules of behavior and sexual harassment trainings can help. For example, some excellent rules for the workplace include “no touching another person’s body”, ”no sharing photos of your genitals”, “no comments about anyone’s bodies”, “no questions about people’s sex lives.” It will take repetition, but keep at it. And here is really good news. If 5 year olds can learn to keep their hands to themselves, so can your people.
2) Stickers and The Time Out Chair
Mrs. Winning had clear consequences if you broke the rules and clear rewards if you followed them. I once spent an entire recess in the Time Out Chair because I pushed Jenny out of the way of my block tower. I also remember getting stickers for helping to clean the desks and sharing my snack.
As leaders, you need to hold people accountable with immediate consequences when they break the rules and recognize them for doing well. Most organizations do a good job defining the rules. but they fail to consistently hold people accountable. This results in a corrosive and chaotic workplace culture where rules do not hold any weight.
3) Be Respectful to Everyone
Our kindergarten classroom was a kind community where people respected one another. “Be Respectful” was non-negotiable rule, and Mrs. Winning enforced it with vigor. What is amazing is that we began kindergarten pushing, grabbing, and yelling, and by October, she had us raising our hand, using our words, and waiting our turn. There were strict rules of conduct, and we adored her.
As leaders in your company, you can decide to create a positive place where people behave in civil respectful ways. But it takes an intentional commitment on your part and requires consistent effort. One step you can take immediately is require sexual harassment training for all of your employees. Training is an essential way for your employees to learn the expectations, rules, and consequences in your company. It is not enough for you to be good guy or gal and respectful toward your colleagues. As a business leader, it is your responsibility to create a culture where all employees feel safe.