Whatever your chosen media, it is nearly impossible today to open one’s eyes and one’s ears without hearing about yet another case of ‘sexual harassment.’ First of all, we should be clear that there is nothing ‘harassing’ about the nature of the accusations that are front and center today. A quick trip to any dictionary or search engine will help to eliminate any confusion about the difference between ‘harassment’ and ‘assault.’ Media attention of late is focused on this issue as it relates to the entertainment world, and to the world of politics. However, how can we be confident that this is not a cause for concern within the Hospitality industry?
It is easy to bury our heads in the sand and believe that this issue does not pertain to us. But is that reality? Most importantly, can we as the leaders of our industry state with absolute confidence that ‘sexual harassment’ as it is euphemistically known does not exist in our places of business? Drilling down further, how well-equipped are our property leadership teams to know if such a thing is happening and, if it is, how well-equipped are they to deal with it?
In a classic example of ‘closing the barn door after the cows have gotten out,’ our leaders in the nation’s capitol have recently “passed a bipartisan resolution . . . requiring senators and their staff to take training to prevent sexual harassment.” With a far less cynical eye, the Hospitality industry must look inward to determine how well we deal with the same issue. We’ve made incredible strides over the years in improving the recruiting and hiring process, for both employee and employer. At the managerial level, many of us employ personality and psychological testing as part of an application process, and drug-testing is now widely accepted across the country. But what about ‘sexual harassment awareness’ training? Do we offer it in our properties? Do we even talk about it with our associates/employees/colleagues? Do we offer a safe, perhaps anonymous, environment for employees to come forward about situations that have made them personally uncomfortable in this regard?
The issue is complex, and the correct answer is not as simple as a rush to pronounce to our staffs that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace. Rather, what is necessary is a commitment by our leaders to accept the fact that sexual harassment in the workplace is a real problem, regardless of industry. In our corner of the world, the presence of hotel rooms, spa, beach, and pool environments, and other private or semi-private spaces could be construed as having the potential to make us even more vulnerable to this type of behavior. While management companies and brands are responsible for any training that takes place in our buildings, the onus is also upon ownership to ensure that our workplaces are safe for everyone. If we haven’t asked the question recently, we certainly should be doing so now; “What is being done to ensure the fact that sexual harassment and sexual assault never ever occur in our place of business?”