How can companies ensure respect in the workplace?

Attitudes towards women in Irish society have recently received particular attention.

Social and cultural attitudes are reflected in the workplace.

And respect, fairness and civility are important in the workplace and in society at large.

“Respect is an old-fashioned word, but it’s an important word.”

– Bishop of Meath, Tom Deenihan

It starts with the leadership of the organization, the example it sets and the policies it puts in place.

We asked Professor Christine Cross, who teaches Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management at Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, and Maeve McElwee, Director of Employer Relations at Ibec, to give us their advice on how employers can ensure safe and respectful work. environment for all employees.

What can companies do to provide a respectful workplace for all employees?

Professor Christine Cross said one of the first things a company can do is ensure it has a dignity and respect at work policy and ensure all employees are trained in this. Politics.

She said there must be more than just a belief that having the policy will mean that the duty of the organization is fulfilled. All employees must be properly trained to understand the impact and implications of the policy.

“Bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and victimization in the workplace can affect the health, confidence and performance of those involved.

“This training cannot be a tick box exercise and the organization must ensure that it recognizes the importance of providing appropriate and regular training on this policy.”

Professor Cross said the organization must also make it clear that it will not tolerate bullying, harassment or victimization and will take appropriate action up to and including dismissal against those who engage in these behaviors. .

“This is key to the success of the policy, because if an employee thinks there will be no negative consequences associated with this type of behavior in the workplace, they will see no reason to change their behavior. “

An organization’s culture is an important factor in creating, establishing and maintaining a positive and respectful work environment, according to Maeve McElwee of Ibec.

“A positive culture is a culture of openness where people’s talents and contributions are recognized. It is also where employees are comfortable raising issues that concern them, especially inappropriate behaviors and where it is there are supportive, effective and fair processes that underpin this in place.”

What can companies do to eliminate sexism from the workplace?

Sexism is linked to beliefs about the roles women should play in society and, as such, attitudes about women’s place in society are important drivers of individual attitudes towards women in the workplace. job.

Despite the existence of equal employment legislation, stereotypes about women in the workplace persist.

“We can clearly see this in the fact that there are so few women in the top decision-making positions in organisations,” Professor Cross said. “A recent report indicates that there are only 30% of women administrators on the ISEQ 20 boards of directors. Although this may seem like a high percentage, it is the result of years of work organizations to address the gender imbalance in their organizations.

Some organizations are more progressive than others in this regard and have invested heavily in eliminating sexism in their organization.

“In a society where women’s rights and potential are limited, no man can be truly free. He may have power, but he will not have freedom.”

– President Mary Robinson

Professor Cross said the most significant change that many organizations have undertaken is measuring the results of sexism at different levels of the organisation.

“What I mean by that is the old adage that what gets measured gets done. So if you don’t measure the number of women in the leadership pipeline, you won’t know if there is problems with the pipeline and therefore will not be able to act to resolve the problem,” she said.

“The issue of a leaky pipeline has been discussed for years because women enter organizations in equal numbers as men, but as they progress through the management levels of the organization, the number of women decreases. at each stage until we reach a stage where the number of women occupying the most senior positions in organizations is significantly lower than that of their male counterparts.”

She said that to ensure this approach is adopted, the leadership team must set goals and instill the need for this change in the culture of the organization.

Other efforts an organization can make in recruiting and selecting new employees are to ensure that there is a gender balance on the interview panel, both in terms of the number of interviewers and candidates interviewed.

“Too often there are not enough female applicants for higher positions and the organization has to go the extra mile to attract more female applicants,” she said.

“The criteria used as part of the selection process should also be gender-specific to ensure they are objective rather than the result of unconscious bias by the interviewer.”

Professor Cross said we know from research that women speak less often in meetings than their male counterparts.

“Organizations need to ensure that those who chair meetings get the opinions of everyone in the meeting.”

What is workplace harassment and what form does it take?

Harassment is any unwanted behavior that has the purpose or effect of undermining a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Harassment includes the following:

  • Verbal harassment – ​​jokes, comments, ridicule.
  • Written harassment – ​​including faxes, text messages, e-mails.
  • Visual displays – posters, emblems, badges.
  • Physical harassment – ​​threats, pushing.
  • Sexual harassment – unwanted verbal, physical behavior of a sexual nature
  • Isolation or exclusion

If an employee is being harassed, whether it’s a prank or something more overt, what should they do?

Maeve McElwee, director of employer relations at Ibec, said employees have rights and duties under occupational safety, health and welfare legislation and specifically on the issue of harassment .

Employees have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work and not to have their safety, health or well-being endangered by the employer, by other employees or by others.

“They have the right to complain to the employer if they believe they have been harassed in the workplace and are not victims of it,” Ms McElwee said.

“Every employee should know and have access to the company policy so that they can raise their concerns or complaints with the appropriate people in the organization.”

What should an employer do if an employee complains of sexism or workplace harassment?

Every employer has a duty to manage and conduct work activities in a way that prevents inappropriate conduct or behavior that could endanger the safety, health or welfare of employees on the job, Ms McElwee said.

Harassment prevention must therefore be part of the management system.

In accordance with the Workplace Relations Commission’s Code of Practice on Harassment and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, each company policy must state that management and other persons in authority have the particular responsibility to ensure that there is no sexual harassment and that complaints are made. processed quickly.

She stated that when a complaint is filed, the employer must engage with the complainant to hear their complaint and/or concerns.

“After initial engagements to determine the nature and substance of the complaint, the process for handling the complaint or concern should then be initiated, keeping affected parties informed of progress and informed of next steps throughout,” she explained.

“It is important that the proceedings are managed in a timely manner and that the parties are supported in managing any investigation or subsequent outcome of the process.”

What can male colleagues do to ensure a supportive environment for female colleagues?

All employees have a duty to conduct themselves in a manner that confers mutual respect and courtesy in the workplace, Ms. McElwee said.

Employees must also cooperate by providing any relevant information when an allegation is investigated, whether informal or formal as a company policy.

“All employees, regardless of gender, can support a positive work culture by speaking out against any behavior they deem inappropriate or disrespectful towards co-workers or other workers.

“They can also support the culture by considering their own behaviors, use of language or phrasing and considering the tone and impact of contributions on other colleagues.”

Another key support for maintaining a positive work culture is that all co-workers, regardless of gender, remain open to sensitive and constructive feedback about their behaviors or language and adapt appropriately, she added.

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