Nearly a year ago, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) released its Zero Tolerance Pledge on harassment. CASE invited leaders from throughout the advancement industry to join them in a commitment to “respond promptly and appropriately to any reports of harassment.”

This pledge was, in part, a response to a survey released just a few months earlier by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. It reported that approximately 25 percent of female fundraisers experienced sexual harassment on the job, with two-thirds of that harassment coming from donors and one-third from colleagues. What’s more, fewer than half of these fundraisers reported that harassment to their employer.

The Zero Tolerance Pledge likely sought to close this gap, but I regularly talk to teams who don’t trust leadership to manage difficult situations, regardless of whether those scenarios reach the threshold of harassment.

The reason is simple: leaders need to spend more time creating a larger culture of trust, openness, and inclusivity that demonstrates they’ll respond accordingly when an employee has a concern about an experience they’ve had. Employees who don’t feel their manager is accountable on any topic won’t feel safe taking a tough situation to them, let alone one where they feel they have been compromised – or worse.

This reluctance isn’t surprising: it can be difficult to speak up, especially around sensitive matters. Leaders need to cultivate the openness and responsiveness on everyday issues that will lay the foundation for employees to feel comfortable discussing bigger challenges. When these larger issues around trust and accountability make employees hesitant to speak up, leaders become unaware of what’s happening on their teams and unable to act – potentially leading to unsafe environments.

If you’re a manager, ask yourself:

  • How have I demonstrated that I welcome feedback?
  • How have I shown my team that I care about their workplace culture?
  • Have I created an environment that’s inclusive?
  • What steps have I taken to show that I’m open to hearing difficult information? And does our team have tough conversations?
  • Do members of my team talk to me openly about the experiences they’re having at work?
  • How have I taken action on concerns that surface during the conversations above, rather than sweeping issues under the rug?
  • Do we set team ground rules based on a culture of respect?
  • Does my team know I will champion them, whether it be on a performance issue, an equity issue, or a difficult situation with a campus partner?

This isn’t an easy issue. Getting it right requires us to respect our employees and honor our responsibilities as leaders. We have to recognize that all aspects of our team culture will ultimately support a safe environment, or they will undermine it. The Zero Tolerance Pledge has ignited an important conversation, but that dialogue must be much broader than donor behavior and harassment. We must look at what our work culture says about safety for all employees: if our team members can’t speak freely about the “small stuff,” how can we expect that they will bring the serious issues forward?

Next month, I’ll share my thoughts on specific tools for creating a safe workplace. I welcome your thoughts on how you create a safe culture.

KDD Philanthropy is proud to provide training on this topic that gives leaders and teams the context, tools, and skills to meet the demands of a new era of respect and expectations.

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