Hospitals and other providers are not immune to the sexual harassment complaints that have rattled the entertainment and political sectors. While strong sexual harassment policies are key, changing a culture has to start with top leadership.
Peggy Strange, a veteran employment litigator with Jackson Lewis, spends much of her time providing sexual harassment prevention and training to hospitals and other healthcare venues.
Strange spoke with HealthLeaders Media about the components within effective sexual harassment policy and the importance of the C-Suite leading by example.
The following is a lightly edited transcript.
HLM: What needs to be in an effective sexual harassment policy?
Strange: The bigger issue is the need to sit down with the C-Suite, the physician and administrative leadership and say 'Hey, let’s have an honest conversation about what is going on here and try to get tools for how to deal with it. What should we be doing as an organization to get ahead of this curve?'
The policies are a piece of that. Are they robust enough? Some clients have a two-minute video with the CEO saying: 'We don’t tolerate this. We want to know if you feel in any way that you have a problem.'
Before we do that, we have to talk to the leadership and ask if they are ready to handle it when people bring problems forward. There are some who may ask 'are we digging up problems where there aren’t any?' The answer is you probably want to know if there are issues in your organization.
Really, what you want is to have leadership model expected behavior.
HLM: Are you saying that changing the culture is the harder part?
Strange: I am not sure that policy is the easy part. It's a part of the puzzle, but it's got to be part of a larger undertaking by the hospital, the healthcare provider, to ask 'how are we as an organization going to respond to these developments?' Policy is one piece of it.
HLM: Does healthcare provide unique challenges for sexual harassment policy?
Strange: One piece of it is how are we going to manage physicians? There is always this struggle in the hospital setting between human resources and managing physicians. We have way more physicians as employees than we’ve ever had before. Is it the medical leadership that manages physicians? Because it needs to be a coming together of medical leadership and HR in a process for managing physicians that is more holistic rather than just focusing on peer review or medical leadership, particularly as more physicians become employees of hospitals.
HLM: How will the growing numbers of women physicians, nursing leaders and administrators affect the process of building effective sexual harassment policy?
Strange: It is a helpful development because anytime you have more and different voices at the table when you talk about solving the problem you are going to have different opinions about the best way to establish this environment; where we come together and model expected behavior in the work place so that everyone is working in the same direction.
John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.