This week, every Toronto business owner, leader and manager is saying to anyone who will listen that, under his or her watch, nothing bad or offensive ever happens at their workplace. Yeah, well, good luck with that. In thinking about the current city-wide gossip, I can hear my mother’s sombre “there but for the grace of God, go I” – and I say this knowing that my senior team and I are hyper vigilant to any type of harassment.
I think I’ve mentioned before that we have “slice day” at PGB which is usually pizza although we can venture into burritos, burgers and curry when the mood hits. The other day I happened to walk by the lunch table at one of the stores when about 6 of the team had just finished their pizza. Neat piles of mushroom slices were in front of each person. I stopped in my tracks and said, what’s with the mushrooms? Well, they said somewhat sheepishly, we don’t really like mushrooms….or peppers or stuff like that. Ah ha! Two years into the slice day idea and many pizza orders later I stumble onto a team wide mushroom aversion! This past week we had pizza – sans mushrooms and the other unfortunate vegetables – and it was inhaled at twice the rate.
You might be saying that speaking up about the lunch menu has nothing to do with speaking up about harassment on the job but I’m not sure. In all places I have worked – professional firm, bank, small business – I have witnessed a strong inclination to NOT SPEAK UP. About anything. This is just a guess but I think that the vast majority of people really care and worry about the continuation of their employment and the little voice in their head saying that maybe it would be worthwhile to say something is far quieter than the voice that says, you really need this job.
So even by doing my best to create an environment of mutual respect at PGB and responding quickly when, for example, an outside supplier made remarks about someone’s appearance, will I always be told about such incidents? Of course I would like to think so but I believe managers need to accept we face an inherent reluctance by our team members to be seen as complainers. One thing is clear to me, though. Once a complaint is made and ignored, the already tenuous possibility of employee candour would be irreparable.