Following the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements to increase awareness of sexual assault and harassment, more and more people are finding the courage to share their stories.
As more people come forward with sexual assault allegations, we’ve become increasingly aware of just how prevalent sexual assault and misconduct is in our culture. What were once considered taboo conversations have become more mainstream and increasingly part of our everyday conversations with colleagues, friends and family members.
As we’ve seen with many recent sexual assault and misconduct cases, it has become increasingly important for organizations to figure out how to communicate about these allegations. Most organizations want to be open and transparent but find it challenging to balance the needs of their employees, legal implications, liability, and reputation. There is no easy answer here. But there are some things to keep in mind.
As more organizations grapple with this issue, I’d like to offer the following guiding principles for organizations faced with communicating about sexual assault and misconduct allegations:
- Openness and transparency. It is much easier to forgive someone that shares information openly, than an organization that tries to hide or deny the allegations.
- Acknowledge and commit to doing better. Acknowledge the allegations and be clear about what action you’ve taken. Share what you are doing to make the workplace a safer and more supportive environment for employees.
- Balance reputation and legal. Engage both your legal and communications counsel. There are times when you need to consider legal implications along with what your employees and stakeholders need to hear.
- Protect individual rights. In some cases, you may be dealing with an isolated incident of sexual misconduct that is between two individuals. Understand the wishes of the person involved, as some people prefer to keep private matters private.
- Historical vs immediate risk. If there isn’t an immediate risk to others, understand the extent of the allegations, establish a process for people to come forward, and carefully plan your communications.
In planning your communications, it’s important to understand the nature and extent of the allegations, seek counsel from your legal, insurance and communications teams, assess risk, identify and prioritize your audiences, and plan your communications accordingly. Having a communications plan in place helps ensure you’re prepared to respond quickly and effectively to issues that may arise.
Most importantly, respect the wishes of those most impacted. Even in our current climate of more open dialogue about sexual assault, this is still an incredibly sensitive and personal matter. Work to create a supportive environment for people to share their stories and access the support services necessary during this difficult time.
NATIONAL has a network of communications professionals spanning across the country available to support clients as they navigate challenging situations like these and others.