Lost stars: There’s no room for workplace harassment

Written by SAFE

In his first real job after college, Marco showed great potential and advanced quickly in the marketing firm where he worked. He appreciated and respected the agency leadership, felt supported and proud of his company, and could not imagine ever leaving.

But then his favorite boss and CEO left the agency. The new CEO was less transparent and open. Marco began to notice a more hostile work environment, and even experienced ageism as he was chided and passed over for promotions because he was young. He saw his colleagues being bullied—by colleagues and by the new CEO—and heard about harassment occurring throughout the company. The workplace did not feel the same; he no longer felt proud of where he worked.

And then the firm faced a sexual harassment suit and did not handle it well.

The agency employed a man who regularly treated women with disrespect and was openly accused of sexual assault at the start of the #metoo movement. After an investigation, the firm fired the man who committed assault and made a public statement condemning his behavior.

Eventually though, Marco and his coworkers learned that the firm was quietly staying in contact with him and sending him contract assignments. When employees voiced concern over continuing a business relationship with him or tried to arrange for a public statement against harassment/assault, they were silenced or asked to speak with the firm lawyers. The agency response to the assault upset many people in the firm. Marco’s colleagues no longer felt proud to work at the firm. They no longer felt the loyalty they had felt. Team members were also more distracted and less productive.

Marco took the failed response quite hard. He had been sexually assaulted as a child and the firm’s response—the CEO’s response—to the assault made him realize that his needs, his values, his safety were not a priority. Not only did he no longer enjoy work, but he felt actively uncomfortable being in the same room with the new CEO.  It was then that Marco realized he had to leave.

And so the firm lost one of their best rising stars because they chose to allow an environment of harassment and disrespect to spread and grow.

When asked what the agency could have done better, what they could have done differently in order to maintain his trust and keep him there, Marco said: “I wanted to see more transparency from leadership. My colleagues and I also wanted to know that the CEO took responsibility for fomenting an unhealthy workplace. That didn’t happen.”

Perhaps most importantly, Marco noted that they could have simply built a workplace that respected and engaged people from the start. There could have been anti-harassment training, better policies in place, and modeling on how to have difficult conversations. He added, “I would have been so grateful to know that leadership was being held accountable and was also working to model good behavior.”

In his new leadership role in a new company, Marco is working to ensure that every employee feels heard and respected, and that they know that harassment will not be tolerated. His employees are benefiting from the horrific experience he had—one that lost the marketing firm one of their best employees.

How SAFE Institute prevents workplace harassment

Does your company need help preventing harassment and addressing bad behavior? The SAFE Institute (a program of SAFE) helps top employers create safe and respectful work environments. Our training is informed by SAFE’s 45 years of experience preventing violence and is delivered through virtual team trainings and self-paced online modules. And 100% of training fees go back into SAFE’s budget to support services for families and individuals who have experienced violence in their lives.

SAFE Institute also offers free monthly webinars and blog posts to give managers the tools they need to create a great workplace culture. Contact the team at safeinstitute@safeaustin.org or go to safeinstitute.org for more information. Harassment has no place at work. We can help!

If you are experiencing harassment or other sexual misconduct at work, don’t suffer in silence! We encourage you to reach out for support from a trusted coworker, friend or counselor as you weigh your options for how to address the situation. Your HR team may also be able to help, and many companies offer confidential counseling services through Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).

If you are in crisis, the 24/7 SAFEline is available by phone, text, and online chat.

Call: 512.267.SAFE (7233)
Text: 737.888.7233
Online chat: safeaustin.org/chat