The #MeToo movement was sparked last October by the media firestorm that swept Hollywood following a raft of sexual assault allegations levelled against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, it has spread swiftly through workplaces across North America. Indeed, #MeToo has compelled a radical reckoning for both bosses and co-workers. For some, the movement is energizing, a chance to initiate real change in the workplace; others seek to avoid the prospect of awkward conversations and tough adjustments.
Susan Pottle, manager of employee experience at Saskatchewan’s Conexus Credit Union (125,000 members, $7.88 billion in assets), has taken the former approach, seizing the initiative and educating herself about workplace sexual harassment. Since undertaking training in late 2017, she has devised a number of tangible plans to nurture a culture of respect year-round.
With the #MeToo movement making daily headlines, Pottle, who has worked in human resources at Conexus for a decade, took a closer look at her own office. “I quickly became aware that though we are committed to dealing with sexual harassment complaints, Conexus didn’t actually have an established and rigorous process to investigate.”
In late 2017, Pottle signed up for harassment training with specialists Hill Advisory Services, based in Winnipeg, learning how to conduct investigations that are respectful to both parties. “In HR we’re accustomed to running interviews and asking questions. But conducting an investigation of this magnitude and seriousness takes a completely different skillset.” After completing the training, Pottle redesigned the complaint process at Conexus, which allowed her to be more thorough and fair to both complainant and accused. She also had her team of six HR advisers undergo the same professional training, ensuring everyone has the same expertise.
Make a plan
In the wake of her harassment training, Pottle reorganized the formal process of investigation at Conexus. She knew it was crucial that the response to every sexual harassment complaint be structured in the same way: she understood what questions to ask, how to collect and prepare statements from both parties, how to generate a final report and how to move forward. That done, she was surprised to notice that Conexus employees were submitting more sexual harassment complaints than in previous years.
“Was it because we’d established a formal investigation process and people felt more comfortable coming forward? Maybe. Or it might be connected to the #MeToo movement and people knowing they should speak up when they felt something was not right.”
Whatever the root cause, the increase was troubling. Pottle knew she had to look beyond structural changes to the complaints process and tackle the office environment. For meaningful change to occur,
it was crucial that every team member pay more than lip service to the workplace culture Conexus espouses. “We see the Conexus values in our handbook but how can we remember to live those
values every day?”
This year, Pottle has focused her attention on shifting the discussion, making sure respect in the workplace is top of mind year-round. “I thought, as a value-based organization, are we making this issue as important as it should be? We have to figure out ways to talk about our values beyond the once-a-year review.”
To make sure employees retain the information in their employee handbook, Pottle is currently building out a series of campaigns that will run for three or four months each. The campaigns will be aligned to a specific Conexus value, with “being responsible” at the heart of the first campaign. Pottle has coached managers on how to link this value to the company’s respect-in-the-workplace policies and its code of conduct. With solid information to work with, managers can be confident reminding employees about what it means to be a good co-worker, Pottle says. “One focus area for 2018 is values, values, values — constantly reinforcing and baking that into everything we do so that everyone truly understands what is okay and what is not.” ◊