High-ranking companies on the Best Places to Work in Hawaii list or Hawaii’s Best Workplaces seem to have it all — great culture, great working environment, talent retention, progressive policies, an interest in employee opinions, active coaching by managers and recognition systems.

Although these companies have worked hard to do the right thing for their workforce and to keep pace with changing expectations, they can and need to do better for gender equity. Maybe that includes your company, too.

Company values, norms and ideals and the policies that grow out of them need constant attention. Without accountability, resources, and the breadth of executive commitment, even the best policies can wither. Being a leading company means staying on the forefront of improvements in the work environment — because what constitutes a great place to work is shifting rapidly.

Let’s look at well-being as an example. A few years ago, well-being meant providing fair and competitive benefits. Now leading companies include online fitness programs, Blue Zones, healthy snacks, meditation rooms and access to natural light, among other things.

Downtown Honolulu from 1100 Alakea Street.

Office buildings in downtown Honolulu. Good places to work include addressing gender equity.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

This is also true with respect to gender equity. It used to be enough if you were fair in interviewing enough women compared with men for positions of authority. It was enough to have a strong anti-harassment policy and take steps to make internal investigations. Average pay used to be an adequate metric for pay equity.

But now, in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, that just isn’t enough. Widely publicized sexual harassment claims are similar in scope to the top of Chinaman’s Hat (or Mokolii island, the proper Hawaiian name) on the North Shore of Oahu — the smallest part of the giant mountain. With gender equity problems, we have been addressing only the smallest metric of a wide, pervasive issue. The smaller biasing behaviors, the part we haven’t seen or wanted to see, are the vastly bigger and equally harmful part.

Forms Of Harassment

It’s not all manufactured by the national media, though they are whipping up a frenzy about overt harassment. It’s a fact — the majority of women have felt bias at some level. The 2016 EEOC report on Sexual Harassment (Vox, Oct. 2017) reported that six of every 10 women in America experienced some form of harassment, when harassment behaviors included not just overt harassment but sexual coercion, crude jokes, sidelining from opportunities, being silenced as a leader or having a colleague “mansplain” their valid point. And, for fairness, maybe some men have felt this too.

In Hawaii as elsewhere, men and women who have witnessed these behaviors have generally looked the other way. Why? They fear negative consequences for their own career progress, have concerns for job security, or feel intimidated by leaders.

It’s a fact. The majority of women have felt bias at some level.

Both women and men would likely speak up if they felt safe, and knew how to act or what to do to prevent gender bias. It’s up to us to help them know the “new rules” of civility and fairness at work.

I’m calling on all organizations that have applied for the Best Places to Work in Hawaii or Hawaii’s Best Workplaces to be proactive and not wait for a survey or application to add these as “required” categories of excellence. We all need to say loudly and clearly that we expect our workplaces to ensure gender equity, and treat it as an important cultural, values and risk management issue.

Though the scandal of #MeToo is dark and tragic, showing that we only had the veneer of civilized and fully respectful behavior in our workplaces, it is also a gift, like a new pair of glasses to see reality for what it is. With help, I am committed to growing a very large group of women and men in Hawaii who say, “enough already,” and who promise the next generation of working adults in Hawaii that they will experience more fairness and psychological safety at work than many of us have.

Don’t know what to do? Here’s some low-hanging fruit — three actions you can take right away:

  1. Treat gender bias as a risk management issue — identify/audit the behaviors that constitute bias, including subtle bias.
  2. For any sexual harassment claim, make it “coconut wireless-proof” — use an external investigator instead of your internal HR group, to prove fairness.
  3. Teach active bystander behavior — how to stand up and speak out when unfair actions occur  as part of onboarding and your company-wide training, and link it to your core values.

Knowing how a company stands on gender equity may soon be a differentiator for top talent as they consider employment options. Progressive companies leading the way to fully implement equity will have a decided advantage in the talent wars. The question is whether your company will be among them. It’s time to show us what you’ve got.

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