Barely a day passes without the news of another organization getting caught in the crossfires of a sexual harassment scandal. All organizations, big and small, are showing great concerns regarding elimination of workplace harassment, as the abuses of power come to light across globe. The good news is that majority of established organizations around the world have already started instigating training programs and putting systems in place for employees to speak up in case they experience any upsetting situations. On the other hand, smaller organizations are grappling with how to address such serious concerns on a limited budget.

I believe, the shame, fear, and cultural norms all allow workplace harassment to go underreported. In fact, a lot of underreporting comes down to a fear of retaliation from the company or coworkers. The victims usually fear being subject to professional retaliation – for instance, being terminated from their jobs. This not just indicates employees’ lack of trust in the HR department but also shows lack of societal clarity around what constitutes harassment in the workplace – and what is brushed off as just uncomfortable encounters.

According to a study by U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment. The importance of leadership cannot be overstated – effective harassment prevention efforts, and workplace culture in which harassment is not tolerated, must start with and involve the highest level of management of the company.”

So, my suggestion for smaller organizations is to empower their HR heads to make their workplaces safer and more positive for all the employees. The head of HR or the HR Manager is often an underutilized person, who could always make a big difference in instilling and enforcing the company’s core ethical values. If he or she is given a C-Suite role, the companies could make great strides in stamping out harassment. We can already see senior HR people taking up roles of Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO), Chief People Officer and Chief Culture Officer in some forward-thinking companies across Pakistan, which is a positive sign.

What I’ve experienced so far in my 15 years of experience with various multinational organizations, the HR heads are usually considered more as “code enforcers” than “strategic thinkers” and are often overlooked when they speak on behalf of employees in the senior management meetings. Imagine an employee sharing a harassment encounter with the Head of HR only to be told that he or she will take that matter up with the higher management. Doesn’t this clearly show how powerless the HR head is? It also confirms the fact that he or she doesn’t have the higher management’s back. A powerless head of HR is no longer acceptable in a world where more and more victims of abuse will speak out.

I believe that in 2018, the strength of HR departments in organizations will continue to increase and more roles like “Chief People Officer” or “Chief People Officer” will emerge across the corporate landscape. Traditionally speaking, we know HR as a person whose role is to be the voice of employees to the higher-ups and vice versa and to make employees comply with the organization’s policies. Going forward, the role of HR will transform into serving as the ethical voice of a company and coming up with a strategic plan to create and adhere to a zero-tolerance anti-harassment culture.

Let’s strive for a harmonious working environment for all. An environment that is free from intimidation, hostility, offence and any form of discrimination or retaliation.

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Sameer is a seasoned internet marketing professional with 14+ years experience in content editing/marketing, social media management, digital partnerships, PR, PPC online advertising and branding. He's a keen observer of behavior and social issues and occasionally writes about life's experiences. Sameer holds a degree in English Literature from University of the Punjab.