Source | FastCompany : BY ELIZABETH SEGRAN
Human resources departments are easy targets. A month ago, Susan Fowler wrote an extensive blog post that immediately went viral about the ongoing sexual harassment she experienced at Uber. She pointed a finger at Uber’s HR team, which she says failed to take her complaints seriously. Over the last few weeks, former Thinx employees have described founder and former CEO Miki Agrawal’s behavior on the record as aggressive, vindictive, and sexually inappropriate, alongside other workplace problems, including terrible pay and poor health care benefits. Many argued that if the startup had had an HR manager in place, some or all of these problems might have gone away.
But this isn’t necessarily true. I spoke with nine experts, ranging from HR professionals to professors to industry analysts, all of whom argued that without strong leadership invested in a healthy workplace, HR is hamstrung. “If HR doesn’t have the support of top management, you can’t create or maintain a positive work culture,” says MaryAnne Hyland, professor of HR management at Adelphi University.
WHY THE CURRENT HR STRUCTURE IS SO BROKEN
Jason Nazar, Comparably’s CEO and a serial entrepreneur, concurs. “Culture always starts at the top,” he says. “HR is meant to be both a megaphone of the values of leadership and the safeguards for when people do things that are inappropriate, wrong, or not in the best interest of the company.”
Several pointed out that the very nature of human resources within a company is tenuous: The department is meant to advocate on behalf of employees, but it is still subordinate to the company’s leadership. If the leaders of the company are themselves misbehaving or not taking employees who bring up problems seriously, HR departments are probably not going to be empowered to set the company on the right course.
In Fowler’s description of her experience at Uber, it appears that senior management was aware of sexual harassment yet turned a blind eye. Trained HR professionals should know the proper procedure for dealing with an employee complaint: Talking to the other party, investigating what happened, then changing the work arrangement and, if appropriate, disciplining the harasser. But at Uber, the HR team didn’t have the leverage to do their jobs well, since the leaders at the company were effectively colluding with the man accused of sexual harassment. This makes it close to impossible for an HR manager to effectively fight for the rights of an employee.
This is unfortunately a relatively common occurrence. “I know people who have quit their jobs as senior HR managers because they see things going on at the company and don’t have the support of senior management to address the issue,” Hyland says. “They did not feel comfortable staying in the position where they could not do what they knew was the right thing to do.”