by Sharon Florentine

Stopping workplace violence is everyone’s responsibility

Apr 12, 2019
IT LeadershipStaff Management

Tech companies have a social responsibility to help stem the tide of hatred and violence.

diversity team collabotion paper cutout people
Credit: Thinkstock

April is Workplace Violence Awareness Month, and while recent events like the massacre of Muslims in New Zealand and the synagogue attack in Pittsburgh took place in houses of worship, these events are part of a larger climate of hatred, discrimination, intolerance, and violence on the rise worldwide. The U.S. alone saw a 57% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League. What makes you think this kind of hatred and intolerance isn’t already in your workplace?

Think about it – James Damore was fired from Google in 2017 for circulating his infamous memo claiming women were biologically less adept at engineering and that “personality differences” explained the shortage of female leaders at the company. Just this month, activists alleged that an IBM consulting manager is a member of a white supremacist group and has given other members advice about how to get into the tech field. In 2018, a “game” called SuperSeducer was readily available on the Steam platform. According to the description, it’s based on “pickup artist” culture and rewards players for objectifying, harassing, coercing, and ignoring non-verbal cues from women. Earlier this year, Steam and parent company Valve pulled a game called Rape Day from its platform.

Those are just a few high-profile examples. Workplace bullying, cyberbullying, discrimination and sexual harassment, racial discrimination and harassment, LGBTQ+ discrimination and slurs – violent incidents happen daily within the walls of organizations.

What can you do about it? Vijay Eswaran, an entrepreneur, speaker, and philanthropist who is the founder and executive chairman of the QI Group of Companies, says the business community in particular cannot just sit and wait for politicians to act and lead as responsible role models. Nor is it up to individuals alone to solve these problems – it has to be a collaborative solution, from the top down and from the bottom up.

“Each of us, in our respective roles, should take action to promote a more open, diverse and tolerant society,” Eswaran says. “It is high time business leaders argued that diversity is also an extraordinary economic opportunity that brings success and prosperity to all of us. The cohabitation of people of different ethnicities, from different places, with different experiences in cities and societies, is a key driver of innovation. Societies which are diverse are more innovative because they encourage unique collaborations” and points of view.

This is borne out on a micro scale, as well, within company structures, he says. A 2017 report from the Financial Management Association shows that more diverse companies announce an average of two extra products in any given year. McKinsey & Co. has also studied the strong positive correlation between financial performance and diversity.

“Diversity means more disruptive products, business models, and ideas floating around the marketplace,” Eswaran says. “More than ever, flexibility and versatility are becoming the most important keys to success for individuals, companies and countries alike, and a culturally diverse environment is the best way to acquire these qualities. Corporations bear a responsibility to step up and advocate for diversity and tolerance, but they must also have their own houses in order: workplaces and boardrooms must be the shining example, bringing people from different backgrounds to work together.”

That also means making the tough calls when needed: Firing the James Damores and the neo-Nazi group members when you find them within your ranks. Listening and taking action when employees report harassment, hatred, and discrimination. Having a zero-tolerance policy toward these types of behavior and following through with consequences.

Of course, we are not going to reverse the trend of hatred and violence overnight. No single article, Tweet, marketing campaign (or blog post) on its own will turn the tide, says Eswaran. “But, as a collective, the corporate world must come together and be much more engaged and vocal than it has been in its defense of a diverse and tolerant society. It is an uphill battle, but peace and prosperity depend upon it,” he says.