Yesterday I was talking to my CEO J Rollins, and we went off on a side conversation about how ‘doctors’ were used between the 1930s to the 1950s in cigarette advertisements. I was completely beside myself that this practice was once allowed. Times have certainly changed in the world of tobacco advertising. Since the 1950’s both legislation as well as the general public’s views have changed regarding what is/ is not socially and legally acceptable anymore. I see the same trend happening in today’s business world when it comes to topics like sexual harassment and discrimination. Employees are expecting more protection, due process, and transparency from the companies where they work. Employees are crying out for change and are demanding a healthy and inclusive corporate culture.
Just within the past several days, two more stories that address this outcry for change have appeared in the news.
On November 1st over 20,000 Google employees and contractors walked out of Google offices all over the world to protest the policy and procedures around sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a non-inclusive workplace culture. This protest event happened right after the New York Times reported that Google paid Andy Rubin, Android co-founder, $90 million in response to a sexual misconduct allegation against him. However, the large settlement is only one of several events that lead to the #GoogleWalkout movement. Google employees are demanding real change that includes transparency, accountability, and a structural overhaul. The status quo is no longer acceptable, and Google employees are making their voices heard.
On November 5th the Wall Street Journal reported that Under Armour Inc. made a change to their expense policy. Employees are now prohibited from expensing visits to strip clubs. The policy change was announced back in February of 2018, to Under Armour employees via email. According to the Wall Street Journal, women who worked at the Under Armour found the practice demeaning. In Kevin Plank’s statement to the WSJ, he said “Our teammates deserve to work in a respectful and empowering environment. We believe that there is systemic inequality in the global workplace and we will embrace this moment to accelerate the ongoing, meaningful cultural transformation that is already underway at Under Armour.” Under Armour is proof that times are changing. A practice that was once seen as an acceptable business practice is now a violation of policy and a reportable concern. Addressing this policy change is just one of many steps Under Armour has been taking to drive meaningful culture changes.
Google and Under Armour are just two recent examples of companies where the voices of their employees are driving meaningful cultural change. Additionally, the general public is putting pressure on companies to adapt, drive real corporate change and not merely make empty promises. I’ve been in the world of ethics and compliance for over 14 years, and from my perspective, a cultural shift in an organization takes support from leadership, focus, time and dedicated resources. When addressing major concerns like sexual misconduct, hope cannot be a strategy. Making policy changes like Under Armour and Google is only one piece of the puzzle. Organizations should also be training employees appropriately, setting up an anonymous hotline, implementing best practices and protocols for investigating human resources and ethics & compliance allegations.
The days of complicity, dismissiveness, and support for perpetrators in the face of sexual misconduct, and abuse of power needs to come to an end. Organizations need to take the time to listen to their employees and take their concerns seriously because I guarantee if they don’t a nice lawyer or someone from the WSJ will.
Stephanie Jenkins is the Chief Compliance Officer of ETHIX360. At ETHIX360, our goal is simple, to provide an affordable, flexible and comprehensive answer to employee communication and case management on issues related to corporate ethics, code of conduct, fraud, bribery, environmental, health & safety, and workplace violence. To learn more about ETHIX360, please visit ethix360.com, or follow us on twitter @ethix360 and LinkedIn.