Moral Courage begins with the Leader of the Organization

By Leon Goren

On February 15th, 2018, Leanne Nicolle, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Toronto and the former Executive Director of the Canadian Olympic Foundation spoke to us at Presidents of Enterprising Organizations. For those that don’t recognize Leanne’s name – she was the one responsible for filing a complaint against the former Canadian Olympic Committee’s president for sexual harassment that led to a formal investigation and his resignation.

If you ever have a chance to hear Leanne speak I would highly recommend it. She was outstanding!

I’ve summarized some of the key take-aways below:

A large percentage of Senior Executives appear to be asleep at the wheel.

In a quarterly C-Suite Survey by the Gandalf Group in December 2017 that interviewed 153 Canadian Executives, 95 percent of whom were male – 94 percent of them chose to say that sexual harassment was not a problem in their organization. However a statics Canada survey earlier that year of 1,349 respondents, 1000 of whom were identified as women, found 30 percent of them had experienced workplace sexual harassment. More recent surveys performed late in 2017 continue to align with the Stat Canada’s findings. There appears to be a rather big disconnect here. “When you read it in that context, it seems that [executives] are saying sexual harassment is somebody else’s problem,” said Marie Clarke Walker, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress. “But it isn’t – it’s everybody’s problem.”

The key take-away to the above – don’t assume you don’t have a problem.

5 opportunities to ensure that as the leaders of our organizations we are creating a harassment free culture:

1.    You serve as a role model.

2.    Stay ahead of it! Have the moral courage to ask the questions. Don’t assume it’s not happening within your organization.

3.    Create policies that are clear and concise that detail acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. Distribute to all employees and have them sign off on the policies and return them to HR. Make sure the policies are clear on how to report any harassment.

4.    Educate your employees throughout the year. What’s not talked about and reinforced is quickly forgotten as new people join the organization and others depart. Ongoing reinforcement is what allows us to learn and ultimately builds culture.

5.    Exercise compassion. Understand the dilemma and pain this individual is undergoing to come forward. They may have waited days, months, years as they contemplated whether they could handle it themselves, possibly caused the situation themselves, or pondered that it was not intentional and/or it was better that they kept their head down.

Finally I came away with an understanding that responsibility does not end with the Leader. If you are a member of a board of directors you are equally responsible for ensuring the organization instills a culture of moral courage. We are hearing too many stories where members of a board bury their heads in the sand. As a board member you have a fiduciary duty to the organization – burying your head in the sand is inexcusable.

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