We recently moderated a panel discussion titled "Drawing the Line: Gender Equity and Facing Sexual Harassment and Mistreatment in the Cultural Field" at the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) Annual Conference. Attendees received first-hand knowledge and inspiration on how to take steps within their organizations to deal with the issues of gender inequity and sexual harassment.
During the session, the panelists and attendees discussed and shared advice on various ways to handle situations where board members, donors, and visitors say something inappropriate to staff. The various circumstances resonated with many of the attendees. Your organization may encounter a comparable scenario where you may apply a similar solution.
An Executive Director of a non-profit interacted with a donor who treated her in a patriarchal manner.
Solution: The Executive Director spoke to the board and requested that a board member be present with her every time she met or talked to the specific donor. The solution presented by a panelist allowed for the organization to keep working with the donor and it allowed the Executive Director to feel comfortable. Although this resolution would allow staff to move forward with work, would this action end the donor's behavior? A recommended next step would be to take the situation as an opportunity to educate the donor on what the organization considers to be inappropriate behavior.
An employee encountered a visitor who made derogatory sexual remarks.
Solution: The consensus in the room was that the best solution is to empower employees to say something or stand up for themselves. Providing the tools to employees so that they feel empowered will not be completed after a one-time training. There should be constant encouragement and support for employees. This includes the way organizations respond to situations and demonstrate leaderships' commitment to protecting their staff.
Another solution that an organization suggested, is to have weekly team meetings where the employees are reminded that they have the authority to address an offensive visitor. The same company has a dedicated programs person whose role is to listen to employees’ concerns and to provide support during these situations. After the employee voices their concern, they walk out feeling empowered and supported to deal with the next situation.
The leader of a non-profit continuously faced gender stereotyping from a board member. The board member expressed doubt that the leader would be a good successor to the previous Executive Director based on her gender.
Solution: With the help of her mentor, the Executive Director demonstrated her capabilities. Using a supportive network, the leader was able to work through this barrier.
The session turned out to be a very good one. It led us to realize that we not only need to spend more time on this conversation and provide support more frequently; we need to include everyone - all genders and the entire staff and leadership. One of the most important feedback received from the attendees was that sharing and hearing about the experiences of other organizations inspired them with ideas on what is possible within their own workplaces. It also gave them confidence that they could all play a role in making these essential changes. No one is alone in this movement, although it may feel like that at times. It is crucial to find partners to rely on or speak to when the need arises. Consider reaching out to a membership organization, colleagues from other institutions, or your board members for support.
We look forward to developing more ideas on how to support organizations that have no HR presence to help facilitate these discussions or lend an ear in confidence. Gender inequity and sexual harassment is not an HR problem or a women’s issue – it’s a loss of an organization’s values that we must work together to resolve.