Business and nonprofit leaders in Florida exert a strong influence on their workplace cultures. When allegations of sexual harassment arise at an organization, leaders’ responses could shape how the staff views the problem. Leaders who take strong stances to condemn the problem may foster a culture where people consider the behavior unacceptable. Staff members will anticipate that the organization will take complaints seriously. In contrast, leaders who downplay allegations or deny them outright transmit the message that perpetrators will be treated leniently and victims could face retaliation.
One research study looked specifically at the influence of leadership on attitudes toward sexual harassment. Researchers prepared a short survey to evaluate people’s feelings about complaints of sexual harassment at a fictional company based solely on the leader’s statement about the issue. The participants who read a CEO message that expressed concern about harassment indicated that the problem was serious. Responses from the group who read a version with a weak CEO message that doubted the existence of a problem tended to mirror the lack of concern.
Organization leaders who try to brush aside sexual harassment could be setting themselves up for bad press and lower employee productivity. Victims might turn to the media and tarnish a company’s public reputation. Other costs incurred by unchecked harassment include employee turnover, lost productivity and even employee walkouts like the one that occurred at Google.
An employee who has made a complaint at work that management ignored or fears to make a complaint at all could learn more by seeking out legal assistance. An attorney could consider the evidence. Actions like unwanted sexual advances or wrongful termination may warrant litigation. Legal counsel could manage communications with the company and initiate the process of pursuing a settlement.