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These Women Are on Front Lines of Harassment Fight

As has been said many times by those in our business, you can’t communicate your way out of bad behavior.  It’s also true that silence doesn’t fix things, either.

From Meg Fry, writing for ROI:

Sexual harassment.

It is common, career-altering and currently celebrity-driven.

And it is a serious workplace issue that three New Jersey power women are facing head on.

“The calls became more frequent in the fall and come in almost daily,” Karen Kessler, principal and co-founder of Evergreen Partners, a strategic communications firm in Warren, said. “We have had calls from not-for-profit, educational, religious and both medium- and large-size corporations. … We (also) have been engaged in cases involving politicians and other high-profile types, both in New Jersey and in other states.”

Nancy Erika Smith, partner and co-founder of Smith Mullin, a law firm in Montclair, said she has even seen it persist in mom-and-pop stores, gas stations and diners, as well as in the Fortune 500.

“It has been a problem in New Jersey since I began practicing law,” she said. “There are no exceptions.”

And Gloria McDonald, a Madison-based independent organization development consultant with more than 20 years of practice in workforce diversity and inclusion and leadership and talent development — including a career with Prudential Financial that spanned more than a decade — said it is an issue that the leadership in many organizations have taken for granted.

“Some felt that their company values covered them and did not take it seriously enough, while some thought it better to sweep such concerns under the rug,” she said. “Now, it has become abundantly clear that men and women need not only understand what is appropriate in terms of workplace behavior but also how inappropriate behavior can impact them as individuals and their organizations.

“It is not simply about the financial cost of a settlement, but rather the cost of employee engagement and productivity that occurs when gender, race and power dynamics allow any group to be treated poorly in the workplace.”

New Jersey businesses in every industry are as likely as anywhere else to soon face publicized sexual harassment claims and issues of consent, both Kessler and Smith said.

Kessler, known best for her more than 25 years of crisis communications and reputation management in the state, said the news is far from being old.

“There are many more accusations to come in industries that have not yet been in the spotlight,” she said. “There is sheer panic in the voices we hear in the phone calls from employers who are really stressed over how to handle it.

“People have gotten away with some really unbelievably aggressive and ugly behavior for far too long.”

As ugly as it may be, Smith said it could be a good first step.

A pit-bull employment lawyer in New Jersey for nearly four decades, Smith said publicity — and the fear of being next — can help to move the needle forward.

“Now is the time to change our workplaces,” she said.

ROI-NJ spoke with each of these women to find out more about what they and other businesses are doing to tackle the issue of harassment and assault in the workplace. Here’s what they had to say:

ROI-NJ: What is the first piece of advice you would give an executive or a company when it is their employee who is accused or making a public accusation?

To read the rest, click here.

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