POV

MANY FIRMS HAVE ANTI-DIS­CRIM­I­NA­TION POLI­CIES IN PLACE. BUT IS THAT ENOUGH TO PRE­VENT SEX­UAL MIS­CON­DUCT?

Azure - - CONTENTS - WORDS _Linda Bes­ner IL­LUS­TRA­TION _Kari Sil­ver

The best way to pre­vent sex­ual mis­con­duct at your firm? Hire and pro­mote more women

Over the past year, a se­ries of high-pro­file scan­dals has pro­pelled the sub­ject of work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment into the pub­lic eye. Re­fer­ring to the lost con­tri­bu­tions of women who have left or been forced out of just one field, tele­vi­sion, writer Kater Gor­don told The Guardian: “We are all pay­ing a cost for ha­rass­ment.” A cul­tural mo­ment of self-re­flec­tion has fol­lowed, with other dis­ci­plines – in­clud­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign – now be­ing urged to ex­am­ine the sex­ual power dy­nam­ics within their re­spec­tive work­forces. So how does the ar­chi­tec­tural pro­fes­sion stack up? Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 Bri­tish sur­vey of 1,152 fe­male ar­chi­tects world­wide, 28 per cent had ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment on the job. Com­bined with those re­port­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion or other vic­tim­iza­tion, the pro­por­tion of women af­fected reached a shock­ing 72 per cent. “The #Metoo move­ment has shown that all in­dus­tries have work to do when it comes to com­bat­ting sex­ual ha­rass­ment and pro­mot­ing di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion,” says Em­ree Siaroff, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and chief hu­man re­sources of­fi­cer at the de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing firm Stan­tec. As dis­heart­en­ing as ar­chi­tec­ture’s statis­tics are, they are broadly con­sis­tent with North Amer­i­can av­er­ages: In 2017, a sur­vey by Canada’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment found that 30 per cent of re­spon­dents had ex­pe­ri­enced work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment. These days, most large firms have anti-ha­rass­ment pro­to­cols in place. Canada’s IBI Group, which in 2016 was the eighth-largest ar­chi­tec­tural firm in the world, re­quires all new hires to read and sign a doc­u­ment defin­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment and to at­tend an ori­en­ta­tion ses­sion on the sub­ject. Stan­tec, which is based in Ed­mon­ton and has 15,199 em­ploy­ees, makes all of its em­ploy­ees re­take a manda­tory ethics train­ing course an­nu­ally. Should an in­ci­dent of ha­rass­ment oc­cur, com­pa­nies such as Di­a­mond Sch­mitt Ar­chi­tects, a Cana­dian firm that em­ploys 207 peo­ple, fol­low a de­tailed set of in­struc­tions that guide vic­tims through the process of fil­ing a com­plaint, in­clud­ing main­tain­ing a writ­ten record of times, dates, lo­ca­tions, the type of be­hav­iour and the names of any wit­nesses. IBI Group’s pol­icy states that an in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer will be del­e­gated to de­ter­mine the truth of al­le­ga­tions and to rec­om­mend ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion. Both firms em­pha­size that the proven com­mis­sion of sex­ual ha­rass­ment could be grounds for dis­missal. Clearly, many of the ma­jor in­ter­na­tional play­ers take the is­sue se­ri­ously, but ha­rass­ment also oc­curs in small firms, which form the ma­jor­ity of prac­tices world­wide. And small busi­nesses are of­ten ill-pre­pared to han­dle in­ci­dents – a 2016 poll by tech com­pany Manta found that 67 per cent of small em­ploy­ers in the U.S. have no for­mal pol­icy or train­ing at all (11 per cent said that im­ple­ment­ing rules would be “too P.C. for my com­pany’s cul­ture.”) Of course, there is a sim­pler and more ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment: Hire and pro­mote more women. Cit­ing mul­ti­ple stud­ies, a 2017 ar­ti­cle in the Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view de­tailed why this ap­proach works. “Re­duc­ing power dif­fer­en­tials can help,” the au­thors wrote, “not only be­cause women are less likely than men to ha­rass, but also be­cause their pres­ence in man­age­ment can change work­place cul­ture.” At all of the mostly large firms that Azure con­sulted for this ar­ti­cle, male em­ploy­ees out­num­bered fe­male ones, and most of the se­nior po­si­tions were held by men. Di­a­mond Sch­mitt Ar­chi­tects came the clos­est to em­ploy­ing an equal num­ber of men and women, with a 46-per-cent-fe­male work­force. Other firms high­lighted their ef­forts to step up re­cruit­ment and men­tor­ing for women. “Hav­ing more women in de­sign, [hav­ing] more women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions and hav­ing the courage to stand up for our­selves and each other is cru­cial,” says Jane Sill­berg, IBI Group’s global direc­tor of hu­man re­sources. To be sure, it does re­quire courage for vic­tims of sex­ual ha­rass­ment to come for­ward. But the un­der­ly­ing mes­sage is clear: If ar­chi­tec­ture and en­gi­neer­ing firms placed more em­pha­sis on achiev­ing par­ity in their work­forces, and on in­creas­ing the num­ber of women in lead­er­ship roles, the power im­bal­ances that al­low and en­cour­age ha­rass­ment in the first place would grad­u­ally di­min­ish.

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