5 ways to prevent sexual harassment in your restaurant

5 ways to prevent sexual harassment in your restaurant

By Adam Ochstein, founder & CEO of StratEx4

More sexual harassment claims are filed in the restaurant industry than any other, according to an article in Harvard Business Review, with 90 percent of women and 70 percent of men having reported instances of sexual harassment within the industry. 

As the spotlight on harassment continues to grow, it's crucial restaurant leaders adapt and work to create safer, more equal workplaces. 

1. Examine your hiring process. Curbing sexual harassment and creating the best possible work environment for all employees starts with the recruiting and hiring process. It's a good idea for restaurant managers and leaders to re-examine their current hiring processes to see if they can make it more thorough. Maybe they can start asking different questions, conducting better references, or having candidates meet with different people to get a better feel for them before bringing them on board. 

A fairly easy place to start is by making sure candidates that come in to interview meet with different people at varying levels within the restaurant. They don't have to meet with them for full interviews, but even just a five-minute conversation can lend more insight into who they are and help spot any red flags. For instance, a line cook may notice something the restaurant manager didn't. Then, after all parties debrief on the candidate, the restaurant leader or manager will hopefully be able to make better, more informed hiring decisions.

2. Change up usual shifts. Oftentimes, certain restaurant employees end up working the same shifts together on a regular basis. Additionally, instances of sexual harassment are under-reported in the industry, so if someone was experiencing offensive comments, or wasn't feeling safe with someone they regularly work with anymore, they might not say anything to management. 

In order to mitigate any problems and be proactive in creating a safe work environment, change up employees' usual shifts as much as possible. This way, the same employees aren't always working together and restaurants can intervene before anything gets out of hand. 

3. Train managers better. Managers are often the first place an employee goes to disclose an incident, yet many times they receive the same anti-harassment training the employees do. While managers and the entire staff should receive basic anti-harassment training that teaches them what constitutes as harassment, how to spot harassment, what to do about it and the process for disclosing it, managers need more than that. 

Managers should be trained more in-depth on what goes into a harassment allegation investigation, the types of information they need to collect, how to have difficult conversations with employees, and most importantly, what they can do to keep an employee safe if they mention feeling unsafe or disclose an incident.

4. No sacred cows. A restaurant can have the best policies in place, but if leadership doesn't follow through on them, they won't mean anything. When leaders and owners say they have a zero-tolerance policy, but then don't take any action when claims are brought against one of their top managers, that stops carrying any weight for employees. 

We've seen what happens when restaurants and organizations protect their star players, and unless you want your restaurant to be another scandal, it's crucial to have consequences for those who violate the policies set in place. 

It's important to let employee know the consequences up front, whether after an investigation is concluded, they are on probation. Lay out the expectations and consequences up front for employees. 

5. Grow more women into leadership. Admittedly, this will take more time than the other steps, but it is just as important. According to Harvard Business Review, men make up the majority of management and higher-level roles in the restaurant industry. In addition, women are more likely to be hired into low-wage positions, which can lead to the power dynamics we've seen in the many cases of sexual harassment recently. 

In order to truly tackle this problem in the industry, the power dynamics that lead to it need to be straightened out. A good place to start would be giving women a bigger seat at the table and growing more female workers into management. 

Cover photo: iStock

Topics: Staffing & Training, Workforce Management

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