Sexual Misconduct and Organizational Culture

The recent disclosures about Christian icon and spiritual leader Jean Vanier that he was providing spiritual counsel to women and taking advantage of them, sexually, should lead us all, within or organizations, to ask if we have the policies and procedures in place to foster a healthy institutional culture where both men and women are able to do their work without having to be in any way concerned that they are somehow vulnerable or being taken advantage of.   Sexual misconduct within an organization is toxic; it compromises our capacity to work together as colleagues in that it creates feelings of vulnerability where we should expect trust.   It puts us on edge where instead our emotional energy needs to be invested in the work we are called to do collaboratively.  It is a huge distraction, even if does not cross the line into criminal behaviour. 

To this end, we need to do two things – at the very least.  First, training and orientation.   We need to talk about this; what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour?   How can we recognize it; what can we do to stop it?  I commend to each of you that follows this blog a superb resource that has been put out by the Anglican Church of Canada, entitled “Sexual Misconduct:  Learn to Spot it; Learn to Stop It”.   You can find it at:  https://vimeo.com/34857530 

Why not require that all staff watch this video and, further, have a mechanism in place to confirm that they have seen it, that they “get it” – that is, that they understand the issues involved and know how to bring their own behaviour into alignment with what is best understanding and practice on this kind of misconduct?  I think the subtitle is so appropriate:  each one of us, within our organizations, should know how to spot it.  And then we need to know what to do about it when it happens. 

And second, have policies in place that have teeth to them . . .that is, consequences for those who violate what it means to foster an environment of trust.   We need to hold one another to account for what we say or what we do that in any way compromised the quality of our relationships on matters of sexuality.  When women in the mail room are suddenly uncomfortable because “so and so” has walked in . . . when a woman working late suddenly feels a little vulnerable because who she knows is also working late that afternoon . . . then we need to have a conversation.   We need to know that this is happening and be able to say to those involved that this is simply not an option in this house, in this institution and part of what it means to be this organization.  And in these situations, the person who feels this vulnerability needs to know what she can and must do about it – in that it is not merely about her, but no doubt about others as well.   Who can she talk to who has the power or capacity to do something about it?

Author

Gordon T. Smith

Gordon T. Smith is the president of Ambrose University located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Ambrose is an institution owned by the Church of the Nazarene and the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. It includes a whole range of undergraduate programs, including education, business, music, behavioural sciences an biology, as well as history, English and psychology. Ambrose also includes an undergraduate school of ministry formation. And, last but not least, there is Ambrose Seminary, a fully accredited graduate level institution of theological formation. Gordon has been the president since August of 2012.

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