Sexual Harassment: Changing the Conversation
 

Lisa Deane

State Bar of Arizona

 

Over the past year we’ve all heard, watched and read news stories of sexual harassment in all professions. This has led many organizations to offer professional development programs on the topic, often focusing on the lawyer’s role. Specifically, these programs may walk through a review of the facts of a high-profile cases, using the sexual harassment laws to provide an analysis, and, within the legal process, determine whether a claim is substantiated by the facts presented. That is certainly valuable, but it does not explore a deeper element that is affected by behavior that is questionable – or worse.

 

What is not typically discussed is the impact on employees and the entire workplace when sexual harassment exists. A broader dialogue would recognize the need for workplace conversations, particularly ones that scrutinize expected behavior and organizational culture. The State Bar of Arizona and the Arizona Supreme Court offered exactly that dialogue when it partnered to produce Sexual Harassment: Changing the Conversations, a program offered in collaboration with InReach and the American Bar Association. This free, 75-minute program was held on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, as a live, in-person presentation in Phoenix, Arizona, and webcasted internationally to approximately 550 registrants.

 

Introduced by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales, the program included judges, legal practitioners and a clinical psychologist. The fast-paced and intensely focused program opened with a clinical analysis of the nature of sexual harassment. The challenging landscape defined, panelists then offered scenario-based discussions addressing a variety of workplace situations that might be perceived as harassing – and they even covered what a bystander can do when they hear troubling words and witness problematic behavior. Finally, the expert panelists looked at the long-term impact of harassment on victims and the harm that harassment has on the broader workplace culture.

 

This program’s goal – successful, according to attendee comments – was to provide attorneys and judges with the foundation of a strategy to recognize, assess and evaluate law firms and courts and their deeper organizational culture. It also explored how staff and leader expectations could be developed in such a way that appropriate workplace behavior is maximized, prized and rewarded – and where the overall performance of a team and an office is not diminished by a negative culture of harassment.

The program feedback revealed the program’s quality and the topic’s timeliness:

  • Good panel and content
     
  • Very conversational; excellent scenarios that were real-world; excellent practical advice
     
  • The workshop was provocative. Those in the room opened up. I was surprised by the stories. The bystander part of the workshop also hit home.
     
  • Excellent initiative this morning. Thank you, AZ State Bar!

Within 24 hours of the program’s airing there was an outpouring of requests from bar associations, law firms, public agencies and the courts for access to an archived version of the presentations. A superior court judge also recommended the program be included as part of the required new-judge orientation in Arizona. Fortunately, InReach, recognizing the significance of the content, has allowed the Bar to continue hosting the program at no cost to for 90 days.

Program organizers hoped to facilitate a discussion about how employers and organizations can create workplace environments where employees feel safe and respected. After all, that may be the best long-term strategy to diminish the pernicious effects of sexual harassment. With the program feedback received, we believe the difficult but necessary conversations have begun.