Handling Critical Conversations – Why You Need To Talk About Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

While the HVAC Revealed Podcast has always been a way to learn about industry secrets and how to make your business thrive, it’s also to bring awareness to certain areas of business that are far overlooked. We met with Stacy Fore and Stephanie Gorton for this episode. We discussed the need for more in-depth conversations with our staff, family, and children about the misconceptions of harassment and how businesses should handle these situations.

Stacy and Stephanie are trailblazers in the HVAC industry with their respective HVAC companies and as women in a male-dominated industry. They have experienced their share of sexual harassment both professionally and personally and recently discovered that everything they thought they knew wasn’t entirely true. They shared valuable insights into how they’ve dealt with issues and gave tips for other business owners about handling these critical yet difficult conversations.

Leaders need to be in tune enough with their people to pick up on when they are uncomfortable

What Seems Innocent At First, Can Lead To Trouble Down The Road

As business owners, we know how important lead generation and networking are in our industry. We give out our social media handles and personal phone numbers after intriguing conversations or to set up meet-ups in the future for business-related purposes. But sometimes, an innocent conversation can go too far, or the other person might get the wrong idea. 

Stephanie mentioned receiving a DM from someone saying, “Hey, how’s it going.” While this may seem innocent enough, it should raise a red flag when they start discussing personal matters or meeting outside of work hours. What’s worse is when they send constant text messages or flirtatious emojis that make you uncomfortable. 

And instead of ignoring them or laughing it off, you need to be direct. “Tell them, sorry buddy, let’s keep this professional. I don’t need to talk personal stuff with you,” Stephanie reprised.

What Is The Role Of The Leader In All This?

For an employee dealing with inappropriate comments or unwanted attention from other employees, it can be scary to deal with, and as Stacy pointed out, “you have the highest level of integrity obligations” to your staff. 

Stephanie added that leaders “need to be in tune enough with their people to pick up on when they are uncomfortable.” They should know when a female has a visitor lingering at her desk for too long or conversations are not work-appropriate. [In these situations], it is your job to say you are a trusted individual” and can step in and help them handle the situation.

Stephanie relayed the importance of leadership, “As a leader, be a shepherd over your people and teach them how to be aware of and set the tone for culture in your organization. [Teach your people] to have the confidence to call someone out on their comments” 

But are we actually teaching our staff the right things, are do we assume they already know?

Every Company Should Have Lines and Limits

Sexual harassment has always been taboo, with many employers doing the bare minimum to “train” their employees. But as Stacy pointed out, “[we need to] give human beings a chance to learn right from wrong instead of saying [we] taught them.”

Being subtle isn’t the best choice

“We know there is a harmless line of, do you want to get lunch, and there are different ways to respond to that.” Stacy explained. Stephanie added, “Not all sexual harassment is predatory, [and proper training and] reciting proper terminology to get the phrases correct [should be done], even though role-playing can be kinda embarrassing. Being subtle isn’t the best choice”

Training can take the conversation to a whole new level, but we also need to look at the lines and limits of boundaries, which are individualized for each person. While some people are okay with funny jokes, others can take offense. Business leaders need to set the tone of knowing what is appropriate for business and what is better left between two good friends.

Don’t Wait For Investigations

Nothing is worse than when someone comes forward and their complaint isn’t treated as an emergency. “Don’t tip-toe around it, stand up right now and nip it in the bud,” Stephanie emphasized. “Clear your schedule, get the proper people involved, follow the necessary steps according to the law [and deal with it].

Sometimes you just need to discuss one-on-one with the accused for something like unwanted attention or inappropriate comments. Still, in other situations with genuine harassment, you must consider whether this is good for your work culture. 

The best thing when someone comes forward with a complaint about someone else is don’t forget to ask them how they want you to handle the situation.

“What would you like to see us do? How do you want us to handle the situation?” Stacy explained. They may just want the discomfort to stop, or maybe they want the person fired. It’s best to get the accuser’s side of the situation and how they want this person dealt with.

Listen To The Entire Conversation

This in-depth conversation with Stacy and Stephanie covered a lot of ground. We encourage you to listen to the whole episode, go back to your leadership team, and find the right methods to implement some of these strategies in your workplace. This is one of the most overlooked yet much-needed conversations that need to happen in workplaces, and it needs to have the proper attention paid to it.


Until Next Time,

Evan and Thaddeus

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