Organisations were recently reminded of the importance to be proactive in its approach to cultivating a positive Workplace Culture. Although not a static initiative, leaders can take certain proactive steps to improve workplace culture and ethical standards.

On Thursday 1 November, 20 000 employees spread across 50 countries walked out of Google’s office protesting sexual harassment misconduct, lack of transparency, and a non-inclusive workplace culture. The protest, billed as the largest of it’s kind in a century, comes in the wake of heightened debates about the disproportionately high findings of bullying and harassment in the technology sector compared to other industries. Extraordinary innovation and entrepreneurship is just one side of the story in a workplace culture that is characterised by frenetic pace, aggressive deadlines and an industry intolerant of corporate bureaucracy or anything that may slow it down.

Workplace Culture is complex, however generally revolves around the following key pillars:

(1) The workplace environment and leadership
(2) The robustness of the policies and procedures
(3) What steps the organization can take to ensure that its commitment to an inclusive workplace are reflected not only in the company’s policies but made real in the experiences of each of the employees.

These principles can be applied to any organisation and are not exclusive to the technology sector.

Appointment of an independent Chairperson.

Many governance experts view the use of an independent Chairperson as a best practice, particularly where there is a desire to enhance the level of Board oversight and send a message that Board is taking the need for governance reform seriously.

Internal controls.

The audit committee is generally viewed by private and public companies as a committee that is responsible for overseeing a company’s financial controls, risk management, regulatory compliance, and compliance with a company’s code of conduct.

Expansion of the Audit Committee to include independent directors as well as a clear articulation of the oversight role that the Audit Committee is intended to play in overseeing management.

Establishing a direct reporting line from the Audit Committee to the Compliance organization/YourCall, and/or the organisations internal auditor. This structure allows employees to bring significant compliance or harassment issues to the attention of the Audit Committee without having to go through management or the CEO. The Audit Committee could also be empowered to oversea response to any such issues, including a potential investigation, if warranted.

Improvements to Human Resources and the Complaint Process

Provide a Robust and Effective Complaint Process. To address harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace, it is imperative that there be an effective complaint process in place for employees to escalate issues.

Complaints should also be properly tracked and addressed as efficiently and quickly as possible. The organization can develop and communicate multiple avenues for lodging a complaint, including an employee’s immediate manager or next-level manager, or an external whistleblowing provider. This encourages employees who may other wise fear retaliation to come forward, knowing that there are multiple avenues they can utilize if they have a concern.

Finally, the organization should ensure appropriate processing and tracking of complaints and invest in appropriate Human Resources tools, including complaint-tracking software that is robust and secure. This will help ensure that complaints are dealt with promptly, appropriately, and consistently, and will lead to better tracking and data collection.