How to Stop Sexual Harassment in The Workplace

10,000-15,000 – that’s how many sexual harassment charges are filed in the United States every year. It’s only a fraction of the true numbers – an estimated 75% of infractions go unreported. Companies can stop workplace harassment, but they need to go beyond the idle talk of awareness training.  We can’t just create awareness, we need to change behavior.

Changing Behavior

To bring about real change in the workplace, leadership must take responsibility for the culture it has created and what it must become in the future. Leadership and Management, together, are responsible for owning that company culture – and ultimately changing it.  Culture dictates whether harassment will either live on or die out. Here are a few thoughts for leadership to consider:

  • Zero tolerance for sexual harassment should be a clear and consistent message from top to bottom. Harassers with no consequences, won’t stop.
  • Sexual harassment is more about power than it is about sex – a form of bullying, exerting control. Create a culture based on respect to keep such power-plays in check.
  • Retaliation is a real concern for those effected – three-quarters of victims face reprisals if they report an infraction. That’s unacceptable. Your company must make it safe for those affected to speak up.
  • Witnesses and bystanders are part of the dynamic. Empower your people to support a harassment-free workplace: if you see something, say something.
  • Men should be allies for equality. For leadership and management, especially if those individuals are mostly male, the responsibility for a safe culture is yours to build. Let your employees know that you expect a mutually respectful culture, and that you support colleagues calling each other out on inappropriate behavior.
  • Policies, emails and messaging from HR aren’t enough – Leaders need to lead!
Get Tough, Be Real

Take the Teddy Roosevelt approach: speak softly and carry a big stick. Start with compassion. A company culture that’s based on respect for everyone – and a commitment to being a great place to work – requires that employees know that you put people first.

Once that’s established, the message to employees is this: if you can’t respect your coworkers, then you’re not a good fit for our company.

Long-Term Solutions

Equality and respect in the workplace – equality for gender, race, age, disability and other distinctions – those convictions should be carved into the marble walls, not scribbled on the white board in erasable ink.

To shift from awareness to action, and stop sexual harassment for good, companies need to instill permanent cultural expectations. Make it part of your company’s identity. That takes work, and it takes commitment.

If you’re not sure how to begin, let us help. In our consulting work at Options4Growth we highlight the importance of cultural values, and we help companies create vibrant workplaces where everyone is respected. With our OpaConnect software solution we provide the tools to make cultural values part of everyday work and conversation.

Join us in committing to a healthy culture based on equality and respect. It’s time.

Jill Pappenheimer

President, Options4Growth & OpaConnect®


Calling All CEOs: A Case Study in Transparency

Posted on the walls of their Dubai offices, the consulting and training firm Biz Group, hangs decorative signs that say, “Supporting People’s Personal Growth,” “Believe in Your Dreams,” and “Then Make It Happen.” With interactive art spaces and an open-minded culture of transparency and curiosity, employees are vigorously encouraged to dream, think big, support each other’s visions, and celebrate the successes in their personal lives.

When I visited their offices last month, I was enchanted by their culture and their workplace. Biz Group calls their people “Bizzers,” and the central open area and meeting rooms are colorful, inquisitive spaces that looks more like a kids’ playground than a corporate office. The atmosphere of play reflects The Biz Groups’ style of using game-based strategies to help businesses grow and thrive.

Their reputation speaks for itself – Biz Group has been named a Great Place to Work in the UAE 2 years in a row, the #1 SME Human Capital company in Dubai the last 4 years, and they’ve got an amazing 86% repeat / referral ratio. How do they get such incredible customer satisfaction, and what do they do to earn such accolades?

A Culture of Positive Change

It starts with living their values. At Biz Group, they have incorporated the company’s core values into everything they do. Their values reflect a belief that when people come first, business success will follow. Breaking from stoic business traditions, Biz Group works in a way that’s vibrant, whimsical and inspirational.

Their values speak to the importance they place on people:

  • Act with “Biz” Energy
  • Genuinely care about delivering results
  • Combining strengths
  • Supporting people’s personal growth
  • Tell what you need to hear
  • Believe anything is possible

With a culture that places such importance on the humanity of business, Biz Group takes a bold approach to Learning & Development. In a sense, they reverse-engineer from desired business outcomes. They believe that a company’s key focus should be to hire the right talent and support those employees to reach their goals and full potential. That means smart hires and a dedication to good training.

A people-focused business still needs to meet its objectives. Biz Group believes that L&D should have a measurable impact on business success and profitability. To that end, they’re very deliberate in how training is designed, making sure that learning can be directly linked to measurable business benefits. L&D should be seen as an investment with a measurable ROI.

CEO – Leading with Integrity

Biz Group CEO Hazel Jackson has her “Expectations from CEO” statement posted outside of her office. It’s a concise list of what her team can expect from her in her role as CEO. It’s also a powerful statement on accountability, and sets a tone throughout the organization that transparency and clarity help the company succeed.

The first bullet is “hold relevant ‘management team’ members accountable for the delivery of their expectations”. It’s her job to make sure her team delivers. It’s also her job to make sure everyone in the organization is clear on their own responsibilities and goals. Another one of her CEO expectations is to “deliver … billable hours to help maintain CEO salary as cost neutral to the business”. I love that Hazel is ultimately clear that even she is focused on the bottom line, and what it takes to make the company successful.

People Success Leads to Business Success

Biz Group inspired me. I think back on the huge erasable wall titled “Believe in Your Dreams.” Below the title, there are notes written by employees about their dreams. Their dreams range from “go on a safari in Africa” to “have kids” and “have my own company”.  And right next to the wall of dreams is the wall of “Then Make it Happen” – covered with photos of employees living their dreams.

Bizzers are reminded every day that they provide real value to the company. Together, they’ve created an environment where transparency is the norm – everyone knows what their roles are, how the work they do makes a difference to the bottom line, and how they can support each other to achieve even greater success. Biz Group is a model for how organizations can be profitable, thriving, and a great place to work.

If you have a great example of how your company or team is living out your values, please connect with me at



Part 1: Can you afford “not” to have a people centered approach to Business?

Are we looking at business backward? Success is driven and measured in financial terms, but people are the heart of business. People matter most, and paradigms are changing to reflect that. New business traditions are emerging that value human factors side-by-side with financial ones. Employee satisfaction is as important as profitability.

How can success be viewed in terms of human capital rather than financial capital? Harvard Business Review poses some intriguing questions, and offers illuminating insight, in a new article on talent management.

Continue reading “Part 1: Can you afford “not” to have a people centered approach to Business?”