Navigating Cultural Expectations in the #MeToo Era

 

When we think about our company culture, we typically define it as:

  • What type of behavior we aspire to
  • What type of behavior is acceptable
  • What type of behavior isn’t acceptable

At its essence, navigating sexual harassment in the #MeToo era means managing expectations for behavior at your company. Do your employees and managers understand what’s expected of them? Here are some tips:

 

Set Expectations for Employee Behavior

 

In response to the #MeToo movement, the US Olympics Committee formed a group called “No More.” The committee is focused on making the athletes’ well-being at the center of everything they do.

Are you doing the same for your employees? Before you set the ground rules for behavior, can you unequivocally state that they are working in a safe, inclusive environment? Our employees often work in tight quarters, and under enormous pressure. Set the groundwork in your onboarding, and continue to reinforce what’s acceptable, and what’s not, with ongoing training and examples of behavior (good and bad).

Part of this initiative means making sure employees know that you expect them to report bad behavior and other working conditions that need improvement. Use third party reporting systems and apps like All Voices to make sure employees have a method of expressing their concerns. But don’t just rely on technology – this has to be a true partnership that requires regular communication. Train managers to have regular one-on-ones with employees to ask for their opinions about what’s going well, and what can be improved. Ask your District Managers to make these conversations a part of their regular site visits.

Take a cue from supply chain organizations and proactively remove any system blockers in your processes. Blockers can be tools, technology, SOPs, or even people. Your people won’t perform as well as they can if they have to deal with irritants like outdated technology, broken (or missing) tools, or bullies at work.

Sandra Day O’Connor once noted that courts should be the last place for resolution. If you take your obligations to your employees seriously, you should be able to resolve most of their issues internally. You won’t get sued for engaging and caring about your employees, but you will have issues if you disregard, belittle, or ignore their issues.

 

Enroll Men in Your Initiatives

 

Most companies have done a great job of focusing on women, but they haven’t thought about the impact of #MeToo on men.

Consider that women only represent 24, or 4.8% of CEOs in the Fortune 500. The dirty little secret at the highest levels of organizations is that people like hanging out with each other when they find commonality (private schools, private equity, private clubs).

Somewhere in your organization, there are male leaders who understand that performance is driven by a diverse organization, and that great talent is difficult to find and retain. Find the “hero guys” who will step out of their comfort zone and work to make these changes with you. These are the kind of guys who continue conference room conversations while visiting the men’s room, but bring the conversation back into the meeting so women can participate. They’re often the same men who may forget to bring their swim suits to the company retreat, but aren’t afraid to ask what the women discussed in the hot tub or spa.

 

Manage Guest Behavior

 

If you have a guest chef or a vendor working at your restaurant, consider writing them a personal letter that explains the expectations for how your employees treat each other. It’s just about being respectful to both the visitor and your employees.

Your female employees may fear being called overly sensitive if they complain about bad guest behavior. Don’t let this happen. Remember that irritants become more difficult to deal with over time – for both managers and employees – if they’re not resolved. If a server complains about bad guest behavior, address it. We’re in a war for talent, and your company won’t be able to attract or keep people if you don’t pay attention to creating and maintaining the right culture.

Managing guest behavior can lead to some challenging situations. But, if you think about the exposure your company has (legally and in the social media world), it’s worth managing. Companies are lauded for doing the right thing by their employees and customers. Remember: if an employee is treated badly by a guest, there’s a good chance that another guest observed the behavior and will wonder why it wasn’t addressed by management.

 

Workplace Issues Are Political Issues

 

We’re seeing a change in how issues manifest. The most politically charged issue tends to start internally at a company first, resets the culture, and then finds itself in the political realm. Some examples of this are:

Pay equity

Example: Why are we willing to take a risk, and pay more, to a newly hired outsider rather than promote a woman? Analyze your data and ask hard questions about strict promotional increase guidelines.

Scheduling laws

No one likes to see their schedule change suddenly. So why are we waiting for legislatures to mandate that we have to give employees at least a week (or two) of notice before a schedule change? What’s the real cost in terms of turnover and morale to staying open 24 hours?

Minimum wages

The restaurant industry has more EEOC complaints than any other industry. We often claim that our industry is a stepping-stone to the American dream. But it becomes much easier to argue for higher wages if we’re not protecting our employees and tackling these issues.

There are a record number of women running for political office – and winning. Women are running on these issues and they will make changes that will manifest at the state and local government level for years to come. These changes may even manifest at the federal level as women continue to exercise their political power.

Your investors are also looking into these issues. ESG (environmental, social, and governance) is a new keyword at board meetings.

Finally, remember that Millennials aren’t afraid to speak up, especially as a collective, to demand action. Negative collective action can damage your consumer and employer brand. Get ahead of the issues – and irritants – by regularly doing employee surveys, skip level meetings, and 360 assessments.  Take action and give feedback on the results, even if it’s just letting employees know that a project is in the testing or exploratory stage.  Feedback is a continuous process, so make sure to continue the communication cycle regularly. Your credibility – and relationships – with your youngest employees will blossom.

 

1f8e46dLiz D’Aloia is the founder of HR Virtuoso, a mobile recruiting company based in Dallas, TX. She is an HR professional, employment attorney, speaker and blogger. Prior to launching HR Virtuoso, Liz worked at national transportation companies and at a global retailer. Connect with Liz on LinkedIn and follow her at @hrvirtuoso.