Don Burke: Guilty or not?

This isn’t a blog on whether Don Burke is guilty of sexual harassment.

His fate will be decided by experts. So too will the fate of the ‘leaders’ who knew about alleged cases of sexual harassment on and off the set of the famous, and highly profitable tv show, Burke’s Backyard.

This is a blog about leaders and sexual harassment in the workplace.

It goes unsaid that real leaders simply do NOT sexually harass. So that takes care of that.

But what do responsible leaders do when they witness sexual harassment, or have alleged cases reported to them?

As an executive career coach, here are some steps I recommend leaders take:

  1. Deal with it, no matter what. It can take years for allegations of sexual harassment to surface or resurface. Your responsibility as a leader doesn’t diminish just because time has lapsed or because you have, say, moved on. Look at the Don Burke case. Even after years have passed, Nine Network executives who were there at the time are finding themselves in the spotlight. The implications can be big. Look at what happened with the Harvey Weinstein allegations which went viral and led to the #MeToo campaign.
  2. Get the person reporting the harassment the right support, and immediately. Whether the accusation proves to be true or not, sweeping the matter under the carpet or trying to make it go away with a bunch of pretty flowers isn’t the answer—ever.
  3. Get the accused the right support, and immediately. Although it might be tempting (it ought not to be) to decide the accused is guilty based on what you’ve heard, your role as a leader is to remember that accusations are accusations, until proven otherwise.
  4. Get yourself the right support, in case you’re pressured by colleagues, the accused or others for acting.
  5. Lead by example and follow due process. Always behave appropriately, make ethical decisions and encourage your colleagues to do the same.

Other general tips

  1. Make it your business to understand what sexual harassment is. To summarise, it is ‘any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.’
  2. Know how pervasive it is. Remember that one in five experience sexual harassment in the workplace at some time.
  3. Build a culture in your workplace that does not accept sexual harassment. As Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, is on record saying: “Sexual harassment doesn’t jump out of nowhere. It grows in organisations where demeaning attitudes about women are okay and where there’s no courageous leadership.”
  4. Provide regular training and information to your staff. If your organisation doesn’t have a sexual harassment policy, launch the initiative.
  5. Include career coaching and workshops in your own personal development plan and staff plans, making sure sexual harassment is included.

Only time will tell if Don Burke is guilty. You shouldn’t wait for the verdict, however, to demonstrate true leadership qualities surrounding the issue of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is one of the topics we cover in our Women’s Leadership Forum, being held 14 and 15 February. Book now for Early Bird Specials.

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