Think being the Head B*** In Charge reduces your likelihood of being sexually harassed? Think again. When it comes to sexual harassment, no one is safe. The only difference between you and Meg from Accounting is sometimes slow to react Human Resources department at her employer.
And you, the entrepreneur, probably have no HR department to investigate a sexual harassment claim. It’s just you and the tools in your arsenal that can help you combat a stressful business relationship.
In a time when no industry is safe from revelations of sexual abuse, intimidation, and harassment – entertainment, food, education, the church.Now is the ideal time to address the elephant in the room: sexual harassment in the entrepreneurial space.
Back in July of 2017, Fortune published an article about 9 women entrepreneurs who suffered Sexual Harassment or inappropriate behavior in the hands of venture capitalists and potential investors. It was telling to say the least how the potential to get money for your business is tied to how physically attractive you are and wasn’t merit-based.
Here are some ways to prevent, avoid and handle sexual harassment as an entrepreneur:
Set clear boundaries and address inappropriate behavior head on
There are tons of articles on how to fire your clients, but what if the perpetrator is from a company you desperately want to have in your catalog? There will be times when you’re either serving a solopreneur or an entire organization.
Leading the conversation to someone who may be getting too flirty or handsy with: “Hey, I think you’re an awesome person, and the work that you’re doing is amazing. However, for me to serve you effectively, I need this to be a strictly professional relationship. I anticipate great things for your company. Let’s work together to make this a reality.”
Now, if you’re dealing with a rep from a company, contact his immediate supervisor or the HR department. Chances are if they engage third-party business, they may have guidelines about sexual harassment regarding independent contractors and non-employees.
Cover your a$$
Have receipts a.k.a keep a paper trail. Specific industries are small, and everyone knows each other. Bad news travel fast and salacious news can stain your reputation forever. You may want to add a section to your contract addressing sexual harassment or coercion.The same way that confidentially and fiduciary is to be inferred, having them spelled out in contracts adds an extra layer of protection.
Fire your client
Walk Away! I know I just demonstrated how to have professionally shut down, but sometimes, you have to say “Boy, bye” and cut all ties.
Please note that I’m speaking from a woman’s perspective, but this doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs who are men don’t face equal sexual harassment. Apparently, the bank manager where I have a business account wears a wedding ring to curtail the sexual advances from customers.
Never play the blame game
No matter how short or long your skirt was or how “inviting” your smile appeared to be, you are not responsible for the inappropriate behavior of a client or a business associate. You have every right to expect professionalism from your clients and business associates, especially if that’s what you’ve exhibited from day 1. Don’t compromise your integrity or self-respect just to “play the game” with the potential of losing anyway.
As time ushers on, society will be privy to more sexual harassment cases because now there’s now a captive audience. We see that sexual harassment transcends all industries and socioeconomic backgrounds. This isn’t just a Hollywood problem nor a Silicon Valley problem; it’s all our problem! We must collectively hold all perpetrators accountable.
Have more questions? Let’s connect