Take the lead in the fight against sexism

The consultancy and training company Mannaz advises companies about dealing with sexism and offensive behaviour, and they are receiving lots of calls in the wake of another #MeToo wave in Denmark. In short, companies have realised that action is needed. 

Managers must be involved 

Mannaz has been working on change management and culture changes for years, and Marianne Egelund Siig has no doubt as to where change ought to start: 

“The management team has an enormous responsibility in creating the necessary change. They have to lead the way. To create a healthy working environment free from offensive conduct, you have to unequivocally address unwanted behaviour while also fostering a common understanding of the end goal.” 

“The road to creating a safe and inclusive workplace is not so different from lots of other forms of strategic organisational work. You need to know where you want to go and why. You have to understand your starting point and prioritise your efforts. In that regard, you need to build an understanding within the organisation of why a safe and inclusive work environment is essential to fostering well-being and good results, and about the costs of inaction. 

It’s important for managers to focus on creating workplaces with a high level of trust and psychological safety so that employees feel they can safely speak up against offensive behaviour,” she adds. 

Photo: Mannaz 

Updated for Covid-19 

So how can managers address a workplace culture that turns a blind eye to abuse and bullying, for example? 

“First and foremost, it’s important to listen and be attentive to the fact that abusive incidents in the workplace can have many origins including customers, clients and partners, and can be both online and offline. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how important it is that efforts should also take into consideration the fluid, hybrid and digital working day. All of this can make it extremely difficult for a manager to detect and take action against any offensive conduct,” said Siig. 

“A new development we have seen in relation to the second #MeToo wave in Denmark is that managers are listening more than before. We have gone from neglecting and even occasionally shaming the victims to listening and also recognising that offensive conduct is not always solely due to bad behaviour by certain individuals, but may be a part of the workplace culture.” 

Five steps to less sexism and offensive conduct in the workplace 

Siig recommends the following five steps for preventing and dealing with sexism and offensive conduct in the workplace. 

1. Develop a strategy: Build an understanding within the organisation as to why a safe and inclusive work environment is essential to fostering well-being and good results. What is the cost of doing nothing? Outline the ambitions; the work environment and culture you want as well as the goals you want to achieve. 

2. Planning and mapping phase: Know your starting point. Conduct anonymous employee surveys that ask employees about their specific experiences with harassment, exclusion, violence and bullying. Develop an overview and obtain accurate data on representation in terms of gender, age groups, nationalities, etc. This will give you good information about how inclusive and diverse your culture is. Review HR processes and ensure familiarity with current legislation. 

3. Co-creation: Ensure that the key managers and employees tasked with driving the culture change forward are involved in creating the new policies, codes of conduct, collaboration policies or social guidelines. 

4. Implementation: Communicate clearly about the procedures, roles and policies intended to facilitate the prevention and handling of offensive conduct. Involve the whole organisation and arrange training courses for managers, HR and employees in positions of trust so that they are aware of their specific responsibilities and roles. 

5. The evaluation and follow-up phase: Tackling sexism and abusive behaviour requires continuous focus and long-term efforts. Make sure you follow up on progress and results. Repeat the employee survey once a year and use the results to celebrate your progress and refine the focus of your future efforts. 

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