Gender equality must be at the core of every corporation´s system of values. It is not just about justice; it is a smart decision to improve financial results. Women shouldn’t be facing harassment and discrimination, they should be able to have the same professional development opportunities as men. I firmly believe that preventing and eliminating sexual harassment, as well as any other form of sexual violence, is vital for women to feel empowered in the workplace.
Sexual harassment is defined as non-consenting, verbal, visual or physical behavior with a sexual nature towards a person. A recent study carried out in the United Sates found that 1 in every 4 women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. It is not gender-exclusive, although women are by far more prone to become victims. About 79% of victims of sexual harassment are women, while 21% of them are men.
Victims of sexual harassment tend to suffer aggression in silence. Many are afraid to speak up because of the risk of being affected professionally or even losing their jobs. Half of sexual harassment allegations made to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lead to dead ends. Unfortunately, the situation will likely remain under a veil of impunity.
Harassment makes the victim feel violated, insulted, and it turns the workplace into an unbearable hostile environment. Interventions to prevent and properly address the issue must be institutionalized. Every company should follow up situations of sexual harassment, to guarantee a peaceful and safe work environment.
So, how can we successfully accomplish a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment in our corporations? We need leaders deeply committed to forming a system firmly grounded on effective and coercive strategies.
1. Gender equality should be at the core of corporate values
There is no better way to foster respectful relationships between men and women in the workplace than showing genuine commitment towards gender equality. When equality is at the core of the corporate values there is no tolerance for any form of discrimination or sexual violence. This implies enforcing consequences for non-compliance at all levels.
2. Clearly define sexual harassment
Just as some men do not label unwelcome sexist remarks, texting, emails or touching as violence, some women still don’t realize that some behaviors experienced at work constitute sexual harassment. Sexist behaviors have been normalized in society; therefore, it is imperative to create awareness amongst employees on what constitutes a healthy work environment. There should be no room for ambiguity.
3. Team up in an internal committee
Anyone should feel safe when reporting an aggression. Make sure to provide different options for employees to make a complaint, since many will not feel at ease about speaking to a direct supervisor.
It is a good idea to form an internal committee that ensures that victims of sexual harassment are treated with absolute confidentiality, professionalism and reassurance while they deal with the complaint. Such a committee may take on proactive measures towards complaints, act as an inquiry authority and promote a healthy environment in the workplace.
Join me in this journey to eradicate violence in all its forms. Let’s adopt an attitude of zero tolerance towards harassment in the workplace!
Angélica Fuentes, Founder Equal Invest
Angélica Fuentes is a Latin American businesswoman and impact investor, who has been recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of Mexico’s most influential women.
Ms. Fuentes was appointed CEO of Grupo Imperial in 1992 and quickly positioned the company as a top player in Northern Mexico’s energy sector. Under her leadership, Grupo Imperial’s annual growth rate increased from 5% in 1992 to 9.5% in 2005. Ms. Fuentes served as President of the Business Energy Network of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement (APEC) from 2002 to 2004, and as President of the Mexican Natural Gas Association from 1996 to 2000. From 2007 to 2015, she served as CEO of Grupo Omnilife-Angelissima-Chivas. Under her leadership, the company became one of the top 100 corporations in Mexico.
Throughout her career, Ms. Fuentes has dedicated significant time and resources to NGOs, international organizations and professional groups that support the cause of women. She participated in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Parity Programme, and led the Mexican Gender Parity Taskforce. She currently serves on Secretary Clinton’s International Council on Women’s Business Leadership; is member of the Private Sector Leadership Advisory Council of UN Women; is a Global Advocate for the Girl Up Campaign, a United Nations Foundation program; co-chairs the PVBLIC LATAM regional platform; is member of the Latin American Program Advisory Board of the Woodrow Wilson International Center; and is member of the Global Dignity’s International Council of Advisors.
Her work in this field has been recognized by numerous honors and awards. In 2015, UN Women gave her the Women’s Empowerment Principles CEO Leadership Award; she was the first female CEO to receive this award for championing gender equality in the private sector. In 2016, PVBLIC Foundation, Ismael Cala Foundation, and the United Nations gave her the award for Latin Woman Empowerment. In 2017, she received the Corporate Social Responsibility Award from The Maestro Cares Foundation.
Gender equality, women empowerment and the eradication of poverty have always been a priority in all her endeavors. In 2014, she established the Angelica Fuentes Foundation. In 2016, she founded A Complete and The Imperative Fund. In 2017, she founded Equal Invest, The Beauty Station and A Complete Journey.