Empowering women to create safe workspaces

For women in leadership, the challenge of ensuring that the workplace is safe and respectful for all employees extends beyond managing teams to shaping an environment that actively discourages sexual harassment.

There’s a lot at stake here, and it’s normal to find the prospect of putting female empowerment at the top of the agenda somewhat intimidating. This becomes less of an obstacle if you’ve got the right strategies in place – so here’s a look at what it takes to make a positive difference as a decision-maker.

Developing robust anti-harassment policies

Strengthening workplace safety begins with clear, comprehensive anti-harassment policies. These policies serve as the foundation for compliance with legal definitions and also shape the organizational ethos, signaling to every team member that harassment will not be tolerated. Here are steps to take to formulate suitable policies in this context:

Define clearly

Begin by defining what constitutes sexual harassment in explicit terms. Include verbal and non-verbal acts; understand that what might seem like a harmless joke to one could be deeply offensive to another.

A well-articulated definition helps prevent inappropriate behaviors before they start – and with 15% of employees reporting workplace bullying in some form, it’s not just explicitly sexual conversations or contact which need to be defined and targeted by policies of this type.

Outline consequences

Specify what steps will be taken when a policy is violated. Having predetermined consequences adds weight to your policies and shows employees that infractions are taken seriously. It also means that instances of suing for sexual harassment at work will be minimized – although it’s also important to remind team members that this is an option that’s open to them if they feel it’s necessary.

Encourage reporting

Create multiple channels for employees to report incidents safely and anonymously if they choose. Assure them through regular communication that their reports will be handled discreetly and professionally.

Given that an HRAcuity report found that 52% of professionals have either been the victim of harassment, or witnessed it in the workplace, with just 58% reporting incidents of this type, it’s clear that more needs to be done to turn the spotlight on this issue.

Provide training

Regular training sessions should be mandated not only for new hires but also as an ongoing education for all staff. Training helps in understanding the nuances of what might constitute harassment and how to handle it if one witnesses or becomes a victim of such behavior.

Aim for transparency

Keep everyone informed about how reports are processed and the outcomes of any investigations that occur. This transparency can build trust, showing that actions have real consequences, and creating a safer environment as a result.

Trust in an employer is good for a number of reasons, with research showing that it can reduce employee stress by 74% and boost productivity by 50%. So as well as having happier, more committed team members, the company itself will reap the rewards of establishing anti-harassment policies.

Cultivating a culture of respect and support

Beyond policy, the essence of a safe workspace lies in the everyday interactions that occur among team members. Leaders play a critical role in modeling and promoting behaviors that contribute to a culture of respect.

Lead by example

Leadership should consistently demonstrate respectful behavior. This can include everything from how meetings are conducted to the daily language used around the office. When leaders treat every individual with dignity, it sets a standard for everyone else – and research shows that respectful leadership also builds a sense of community in companies, helping everyone to pull together in the same direction on projects.

Roll out regular feedback mechanisms

Develop regular check-ins not just about work tasks but also about workplace comfort and relations. This ongoing dialogue can help catch potential issues before they escalate into bigger problems. It also feeds into the idea that a positive employee experience, perpetuated by workspace safety, can improve the amount of effort that team members put in by as much as 40%.

Promote allyship and advocacy

Encourage staff at all levels to become allies who support one another against harassment. This could be through formal programs and mentorship or simple peer-to-peer support initiatives. Once again, it all comes down to the idea that your efforts to improve safety and empower employees need to be conspicuous and clear, rather than implemented at the top level and then not really talked about again.

We need female leaders to make an impact

As you can see from what we’ve discussed, and the statistics we’ve outlined, there’s both a need for female leaders to make an impact in terms of workplace safety, and a number of ways to go about achieving this admirable aim. Hopefully as the number of women in positions of power increases, the employee experience will get better for everyone.