Does Your Firm Need a Sexual Harassment Policy?
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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This is embarrassing. With all of the allegations coming out of well-known people in the media, including Matt Lauer most recently, I am concerned about my own reputation. I wonder whether I have inadvertently made women working for me uncomfortable. I have not engaged in any explicit contact or inappropriate behaviors, but I wonder whether I have said things that are considered demeaning or behaved in a way that seemed normal to me but not to my colleagues.
I am an outgoing and gregarious person and am not sure if I have ever hugged someone with happiness, or said something about their clothing or appearance. My wife has chastised me about calling the young women in my office “girls,” so I don’t do that. If I unintentionally did something someone found offensive, it could have been construed differently..
Is it prudent for me to reach out to the women in my firm and ask whether I have done anything they were uncomfortable with? I don’t want to hide my head in the sand and I also don’t want to cause an issue where none exists. It is a tough tightrope to walk. Your input would be helpful.
Ah, there is so much I could say on this topic! Having grown up in the financial services industry, I could write a book on the inappropriate things I’ve been exposed to and have witnessed with others. That said, I enjoy a hug or a nice compliment from my male colleagues. While it may seem like a fine line, I can assure you that most of us know the difference and can read the intention on the other side. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone – some people would not like the hug – but most of us know the difference between feeling like prey and having a colleague who genuinely likes and respects us.
Years ago I shared my personal history at a women’s event that included a couple of men and the men said, “Every man should hear these stories because they have no idea what goes on.” Now many men are hearing and worrying, as you are, about what it means for them.
This all said, I don’t think you should call a meeting and make a big deal of this in terms of asking about your own behavior or conveying a concern that you are guilty somehow. Call a meeting to remind everyone about the codes of conduct at your firm. If you don’t have them, now is the time to write them. You can start with simple things like “Treat others with respect” or “Listen when someone is speaking” and then add more specific ones like “Always ensure a colleague is safe and comfortable with your speech and behaviors” or “Take responsibility when someone is offended by what you say” or “Refrain from using derogatory comments around others.” These are just ideas – you need to write some that are relevant for your culture.
When you unveil, or reinforce, the codes of conduct you can use the time to say you are disheartened by what you see happening on the broader stage, with the likes of Weinstein and Lauer and others, and that you want to make sure – for every member of your firm – they feel safe and confident in the workplace. You can be more general about it – it’s not just women who experience “abuse of power,” it can be younger folks, older ones, minorities, etc. You have a chance to reinforce, for everyone who works with you, how important it is that your workplace upholds the values of respect and support for all team members no matter who they are.
You could also consider putting a policy in place by designating someone (if you don’t have formal HR, like many smaller advisors) who could be the “go-to” person for people to talk to if they think they have experienced an unwanted advance, or an abuse of power. Or, perhaps set up an anonymous mailbox where people could write comments to you, or someone else in the firm.
You want to refrain from encouraging people to find an issue that may not exist, but also let them know that (a) you care about this subject, (b) you want them to be safe and respected in your firm and © there is a process or set of standards people can turn to for comfort that this is real and not just lip service.
Thank you for being a considerate person who wants to do the right thing by your team. It is admirable you are asking this question and trying to find the right approach.
I’m so scattered and just don’t know how to rein in all of the ideas I have swirling around in my head. I drive to my advisory firm thinking about everything I want to accomplish for the day, then I drive home and have panic attacks thinking about all the things I did not get to. I have ideas about new marketing initiatives I want to implement but then don’t get around to doing them. I have lunches scheduled with centers-of-influence (COIs) that I need to meet and then I find a conflict with a client meeting and have to cancel. I have tried all kind of lists, post-it notes, calendaring and nothing seems to work for me.
This is a vicious cycle – you have many things rolling around in your mind you want to do, you keep them noted in different places, then forget about one or the other, try to catch up and then find you are falling behind or – worse – have forgotten about something. It’s not an atypical cycle for busy people trying to do too much. Technology was supposed to streamline our lives and give us all back time we desperately need but instead it has stolen from us. You can be focused on what you need to do, and then like the dog with a squirrel all of a sudden your attention is wandering…..
Here are a few suggestions that could help rein this all in:
- You mention trying a number of different organization techniques – it is critical to pick one. You can use a written form you carry around, put everything in Outlook, use the Task section in Outlook, use the Notes on your Smartphone, put it all on a whiteboard in your office, but just pick one and keep everything there. Part of what gets people scattered is that they don’t have a clear view of all that needs to be done and what the timing is on each one.
- Start the day by prioritizing your top three to-dos. Pick the three most important things (align these with your overall goals) that you need to do. Instead of trying to do everything, center your day on these three. Yes, I know clients will call and you will be interrupted (I run a client-centric firm too so I understand!) but you can still turn your attention back to what’s most important when you finish with the interruption.
- Have a clear plan. Put specific steps in place. For example, you might keep saying you want to blog. Make a list of what topics you could write on. Contact someone to set up a blog page on your site. Create a schedule of when you will write, who will proofread and how you will respond to comments on it. Break down the one idea into many smaller steps to get it done.
If you start by doing these three things, you will experience a sense of clarity and control. Once you get these in place you can continue to build upon them.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. In 2008, she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.