Updated: Sep 25, 2020
"University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School Seal"by yeungb is licensed under CC BY 2.0
On September 9, Perspective Exchange had the privilege of working with undergraduate students at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina. We facilitated a dialogue with these future business leaders on the importance of proactively creating language when you face sexual harassment of yourself, a peer, or a direct report. The students engaged with this difficult topic with very thoughtful responses outlined below.
What to do when first confronted with harassment
Students were clear that the use of “I” messages is important when first encountering harassment. Being clear in your communication of discomfort or disapproval is important. Students indicated that careful use of pronouns was essential. Students felt is important to use your voice to initiate social or cultural change when needed.
What to do if someone reports sexual harassment to you
When someone is reporting harassment, it is vital that the boss makes sure that the person feels heard. One student suggested using the word “We” in response so that the person knows that you are in this together. Another suggestion was to make sure that as a listener, your body language is open and you maintain good eye contact with your full attention on what they are saying. Make sure to keep the reporter in the loop as to what is happening with their case and be clear about action steps.
What to do if a peer reports sexual harassment to you
Students felt that the most important thing is to give expressions of solidarity to the person. They also want to make sure that they understand and respect the person’s wishes as to whether they want to keep the incident private or make a formal complaint. In the case of a complaint, show solidarity by reporting what you know or have witnessed.
How to talk to the person accused of harassment
The students felt that direct and matter of fact language would be best. Describe to the person how their actions make others feel. Tie it directly to the desired workplace culture and general rules for behavior.
This was the first time these students had been asked to think deeply on the topic together. Given that they did not know the facilitators prior to the dialogue, they were required to place quite a bit of trust in us and one another in discussing a sensitive topic. You can see from their responses that they are on their way to coming up with some strong and positive ideas as they move into leadership roles. The students appreciated the dialogue with comments like “It worked to improve my reflection and got me to think about these situations”, and “I definitely learned a lot. It is a hard conversation that people wouldn’t do on their own”, and “This format was helpful because it allowed an open conversation with my peers and included real-life examples”
Clearly this conversation is just a first step for these aspiring leaders in coming to terms with how they will deal with sexual harassment in the future. But getting those thoughts started and allowing time for reflection before they have to deal with the issue is always a smart move. Thanks to Dr. Sharon Cannon for inviting us into her classroom!