Months after a wave of sexual harassment claims in Hollywood came into the spotlight, sparking the #MeToo campaign on social media and influencing other industries to address workplace harassment, the insurance space is still figuring out how to turn awareness into action.
“I think that the #MeToo campaign has raised awareness on the issue, but I also think it hasn’t manifested necessarily into process or outcomes,” said Kadey B.J. Schultz, partner at Schultz Frost LLP, who is speaking at the inaugural Women in Insurance event. “So, talking about the issue and the experience of sexual harassment because of #MeToo – yes. Getting more awareness because of this – yes. But does this mean we have a plan to reduce sexual harassment that is well articulated or enforceable? I don’t think we’re there yet.”
More employers are looking at sexual harassment policies and prevention by way of implementing articulated codes of conduct and consequences for this behaviour, added Schultz. The difficulty for management comes when they need to discipline a money-making employee.
“It’s often the case because of ‘competing interests’ that employers will tolerate this behaviour rather than nipping it,” said Schultz. “Say you have a very high producer. And that producer generates incredible economic value to an organization. And that person also is known to be inappropriate in their conduct with other employees. The organization may feel, when it comes to disciplining that individual, that they have competing interests. They don’t want to lose the producer, but they know there can be no tolerance of that kind of behaviour in the workplace.
“So, instead of disciplining or imposing consequences, they try to remove or replace or transfer the employee rather than stopping the behaviour. And I’ve seen this time and time again, because of the economic value of the harasser.”
The movie industry was a leader in the #MeToo campaign and some of the lessons learned are only just trickling down to the insurance space and other sectors, where women still often carry the burden of keeping each other safe.
“Honestly, I think progress has been made by the women themselves, and guys who refuse to tolerate that kind of behaviour from other guys,” said Schultz. “I can tell you that in a conference I will often have other friends there who give me a heads-up: is there someone here who’s notoriously inappropriate with women, let alone aggressive? And we collectively stay away from those people.”
If someone is experiencing sexual harassment or workplace bullying, Schultz has some tips on the first steps they can take to address the situation. Documenting the interaction by keeping notes on what exactly happened can help an employee reflect back on the behaviour and determine if it was harassment after the fact.
“If it still feels like it was harassment, talk to someone you trust about it. Get someone else’s perspective. It might be, in some cases, you’re just venting to someone – but it could also be that it needs action to be taken,” said Schultz.
Human resources departments should offer confidential listening environments for someone with a complaint, she added, and there should be a clear understanding between management and HR on how to conduct a fair investigation.
“The whole objective is to enhance the company,” said Schultz. “If there was rotten food in your refrigerator, for instance, you don’t want to throw out everything that is good at the same time as you throw out the rotten food. Being able to do a good investigation with a totally implementable process has incredible value.”
Kadey B.J. Schultz will be moderating a panel on navigating sexual harassment in the workplace, and is the keynote speaker on maximizing talents in a “giving back” industry at the Women in Insurance event being held on May 15, 2018. Click here for more details and to register.