We shouldn’t mince words: sexual harassment is morally repugnant. I wish that’s all we had to say to make it end. However, in life, there are times when what is morally right doesn’t win out and people behave wrongly, sometimes profoundly so. So with that in mind, I’d like to explain how sexual harassment – indeed, discrimination of all sorts – is pernicious in another way.
I’ve been studying decision making since my days as a law professor, through my time in government and now in the private sector, with a particular focus on business decisions. What decision-making processes, structures, and practices tend to yield the best business decisions? What group dynamics and exchange should we encourage if we want the group to perform at its highest level?
I’m convinced that inclusiveness is essential. In my experience, a group’s efficacy springs from its heterogeneity.
There’s a reason we routinely have multiple people participate in a decision instead of depending on one individual to do it alone. A case in point is an executive who seeks input from the rest of the management team and outside advisors. The executive may make the final call, but the varied reasoning, recommendations, and cautions of others will inform what’s decided.
When deciding something – especially if it’s a big decision – we usually want diverse ideas, experiences, and perspectives brought to bear. I benefit when I hear from individuals who have different worldviews than me, different career paths than me, and different upbringings than me. As part of the decision-making mix, these and other differences spur incisive questions, creativity, and textured assessments of risks and rewards, so long as the individuals in the group are respectful of each other and bring a collaborative attitude. When it works, the end result is a better decision.
A lynchpin is ensuring that people are empowered to share their independent views regarding what’s being considered.
So what makes it work? A lynchpin is ensuring that people are empowered to share their independent views regarding what’s being considered. If I throw out an idea in a meeting and no one has a reaction – good or bad – I worry that people are holding back and that I’ll be denied the benefit of what they’re thinking. I especially worry if people hold back why they think I’m wrong because I very well may be wrong but don’t realize it.
This is about more than avoiding groupthink. It’s also about embracing differences as the best way to reach the best result. Even if diverse views are represented, the decision won’t benefit if people aren’t actively included in the discussion and if people don’t really listen and take seriously what others have to say.
Stated differently, not only should the composition of the group be diverse, but people also should be affirmatively encouraged to participate. And people’s contributions should be valued based on their substantive merit. This means seeking out contrary takes from individuals to challenge your own views and treating others collegially so they are comfortable weighing in even when they disagree. Stifling or shutting down those who come at things differently or making people feel unwelcome sets the stage for bad decisions because you lose valuable input.
This is just a way of saying that you should be inclusive.
Sexual harassment – at whatever level it occurs in an organization – is antithetical to genuine inclusiveness, in addition to being ethically offensive.
Which takes us back to sexual harassment. Sexual harassment – at whatever level it occurs in an organization – is antithetical to genuine inclusiveness, in addition to being ethically offensive. The same can be said of discrimination generally. The inescapable takeaway is that zero tolerance for harassment not only is morally right, but it also fosters an environment and culture that welcomes and promotes the differences and behaviors that yield better decisions for a business overall. This is distinct from the clear-cut reality that zero tolerance safeguards a company from compliance problems and reputational risks that can undercut its success. Beyond all of that, when people are encouraged to fully engage and don’t face a hostile workplace, you get less employee turnover, higher morale, a workforce that is more committed to the business, and greater productivity. In short, you get a better company.
You also get something personal out of it. When you reject harassment and other types of discrimination, there’s a healthy sense of self knowing that you’ve treated others as you’d like to be treated and that you’ve contributed to your company’s integrity. That’s a good day’s work.
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- You Can’t Delegate the Ethics of Respect & Dignity
- We Need to Talk About Gray Areas When Addressing Sexual Harassment
- The Sexual Harassment Scandals are a Watershed Moment but We’ve Had Those Before
- You Can’t Delegate Ethics on the Issue of Sexual Harassment