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Most good companies lose employees because they get this one thing wrong.

We need companies who are doing good in the world – whether they are creative, developing new systems and technologies, spiritual, or fighting for social justice. The sad reality is that I hear over and over from employees, “I was so excited when I got this job because it is exactly the work I want to be doing. I didn’t realize how dysfunctional the company was, though.” The sad reality is that non-profits and other companies offering good work to the world often face an extra hurdle in making sure their company culture is healthy.

That hurdle is something you might not expect. It’s that the employees love and believe in the work.

The research shows that the leading reason women are afraid to talk about sexual harassment is because we are afraid of how people will perceive us – we are afraid we will be blamed and disbelieved (and often that is what happens). Add to that a company that is otherwise doing good work, and employees worry that if they make a complaint, it will interfere with the work they believe in. When when are just showing up to work to get a paycheck, we are much more likely to be upfront about issues we have in the company.

A company can produce good work in the world and have a culture that allows harassment and discrimination. In fact, it is unfortunately very common.

A woman I’ll Loraine, for example, was working for a non-profit advocating for disadvantaged youth. Her boss was much older than her and much more experienced than any other person who worked with them. When he criticized and yelled at Loraine and her co-workers, they assumed their only choices were to tolerate his behavior or leave. They even justified his behavior because he was so successful in the advocacy he did, and his work was so important.

The truth is, though, that we can be talented at our work and still behave in ways that are harassing and discriminatory. Talent and hard work do not justify harassing behavior.

The key thing that good companies get wrong in these situations is that they wait for employees to report harassment. All of the research shows that taking pro-active steps to check in with employees, especially through effective anonymous surveys, is key to preventing harassment.

The trick is that most surveys don’t work for a few key reasons. The first reason is that many of them ask employees directly about terms the employees don’t know how to define. For example, sexual harassment goes wildly underreported when surveys ask employees, “Are you being sexually harassed?” When surveys ask about particular behaviors that constitute sexual harassment (e.g., gender-based comments, jokes, criticisms, rewards, touching, etc.) there is a much higher reporting rate.

The second reason is that many surveys are phrased in a way to make the employee want to prove loyalty rather than identify problems. For example, questions about health habits, pride in the company, or respect for the company’s work, have the potential to make the employee defensively positive rather than comfortable identifying issues.

In order to overcome this, it is important, especially for companies doing good things in the world, to reach out to employees, ask good questions, and provide effective responses.

My goal is to help women who are passionate about their jobs be able to fully offer their talents to the world without having to worry about sexual harassment. For companies that want to prevent harassment and discrimination, I am offering a Cultural Health Assessment, which is a survey based on questions that have been shown to work.

I would love to talk with you about how I can help your company!

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