5 things we’ve learned from working on the internal anti-harassment procedure

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One of the annual goals (resulting from the adopted three-year strategy) of Wikimedia Polska was to develop and implement an anti-mobbing, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy and procedure (to simplify I’ll be using just one term “anti-harassment”) this year. The idea was to make the workplace, which is an 11-employee organization, numerous sub-contractors and 5 volunteers as Board members, a safe place with high standards. The task seemed simple… to prepare the appropriate document, communicate it to employees and the board, and then remember that it exists. Meanwhile, this road turned out to be difficult and many things surprised us along the way. And although today I can say that the process went well (so far so good), it was not without stress. I hope our reflections will help others too! Here are 5 things we’ve learned in the process.

Before I talk about them, let me just briefly describe the stages of this process:

  1. Working on assumptions.
  2. Work on the procedure document.
  3. Consultations with lawyers.
  4. Consultations with the Board (their support and willingness to implement the procedure was super important within the process).
  5. Preparation and conduct of training for employees and the management board on the application of the procedure.

And here are our main take-aways from the process:

  1. This is a (really) serious topic. 

A serious topic requires a serious approach. It may seem that jokes help discharge the tension related to the topic, especially when the subject is difficult. However, we must remember that some people may have experienced harassment, mobbing or discrimination in the past. Their experiences may still be unprocessed and their memories alive. It is better to be serious and ask colleagues to refrain from anecdotes and jokes.

  1. A good lawyer as a mentor is of utmost value.

Working on the procedure requires knowledge not only of good organizational practices, but also of the law. The law evolves and sometimes it is difficult to keep up with its development. Court rulings in specific cases can change the perspective on a given provision. Therefore, we strongly recommend consulting the procedure with an experienced lawyer. In our case, it was a law firm providing pro bono services for us.

  1. Everyone deserves time and (safe) space to understand the issue.

The procedure itself may seem like a dry manual. But everyone should have time to read it, ask questions and express doubts. Talking about the procedure sometimes requires providing theoretical examples to better outline what the rigid, written in legal language paragraphs are talking about. Visualizing these kinds of events is imaginative, and you need to create a safe space for people to talk about it. In our case, this space was created during a meeting on the application of the procedure. Employees and board members signaled on an ongoing basis when a thread went beyond their emotional capabilities. The people conducting the training tried to react to these suggestions, although it required great empathy and balance from everyone.

  1. Prevention is the highest priority.

The anti-mobbing and anti-harassment procedures mainly describe what mechanisms should be launched in the organization in the event of unwanted behavior. Meanwhile, the most important thing is to create preventive mechanisms – those that will prevent mobbing and discrimination before it happens. In our case the most important of them are:

  • Building an open, respectful and values-based organizational culture (sounds nice, doesn’t it? in reality this means constant everyday work on maintaining high standards of behavior and communication);
  • Opportunity to anonymously and safely talk about one’s experiences (at an early stage, when we still have doubts whether a given situation qualifies as harassment, mobbing or discrimination) with selected people trained in the subject of anti-harassment activities appointed by the organization (in our case these are people responsible for staff management and selected board members; we also assume that if needed we will be able to provide professional psychological help from external experts).
  1. A well designed workshop on communication is a must.

If you think that the anti-harassment training is a talk about the rules of good behavior…abandon this vision. Conducting such training requires creating the right conditions so that people can feel safe. In our case a workshop on team communication, conducted by our Training and Development Manager Wioletta Matusiak, turned out to be a great idea. Wioletta, using special cards for moderated teamwork, encouraged us to talk about what kind of communication we prefer, what statements are pleasant to us and which are not, and how we would like to be treated. The workshop made us realize how important it is to pay attention to our way of communication and how differently we sometimes perceive the same messages. Thanks to a light, friendly formula, this exercise allowed us to raise a difficult topic in an effective and safe way.

This is not the end of our road, now we must ensure that the procedure is followed. Above all, however, I repeat, the most important thing is prevention! 

We are happy to share our experiences more widely. If you want to talk don’t hesitate to contact me directly: natalia.cwik@wikimedia.pl

PS. Many thanks to my wonderful colleagues from the Executive Directors Group (EDs) who have willingly shared their good practices with me – it was very useful and informative. Thank you guys!

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