What City Hall is doing to combat sexual harassment for government employees | Opinion

Philadelphia City Council-01022017-0006
City Council has approved Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown’s ballot referendum, which would change the City Charter to mandate that all city officers and employees undergo sexual harassment training at least every three years.

Everyone deserves to feel respected and safe in his or her place of work. That’s why a key pillar of the Kenney administration is diversity and inclusion; we want to treat the city’s workforce with respect and create a safe and welcoming work environment for all. Creating a diverse and inclusive work environment clearly includes a workplace with strong, clear policies around sexual harassment.

Since the beginning of this administration, we have taken this issue seriously. The Philadelphia Commission for Women has been a staunch advocate for revamping sexual-harassment policies and pushed to hold some of the most senior leadership in city government accountable with their vocal support for the resignation of those accused of violating their employees. Starting in late 2016, the administration also improved our policies around sexual-harassment training, requiring all managers to be trained at more frequent intervals.

But there’s more work to do. In late 2017, we formed an internal working group to undertake a comprehensive review of our policies and practices around sexual-harassment training, reporting, and investigations. Our plan is to roll out comprehensive improvements to our sexual-harassment policies by the summer of 2018.

As our work continues over the next few months, we applaud the work of Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown in pushing for change. Last week, City Council approved the councilwoman’s ballot referendum, which would change the City Charter to mandate that all city officers and employees undergo sexual-harassment training at least every three years. This benefits us all, not only by ensuring regular training to prevent wrongdoing in the first place, but also by ensuring that all parts of city government operate under strong, clear policies. We welcome City Council’s approval of this referendum and hope that Philadelphia voters will also support it on the ballot in May. We look forward to implementing this vital reform.

We are reviewing the city’s current policies, looking at what other municipalities are doing, as well as exemplary employers in the private sector.  We’re examining how social-media usage often plays into sexual harassment and the best policies for addressing it. We also welcome the results of the city controller’s audit and hope to incorporate those recommendations into our process to inform the future changes we’ll make. We are examining our current complaint process, and we want to identify better ways to track issues, make reporting easier for employees, and better equip managers to handle these sensitive matters.

Finally, in addition to increasing the regularity of training and expanding the pool of who is trained, we plan to update our educational materials to make employees more aware of how to create an inclusive workplace. Sexual harassment is not just about the most blatant acts of aggression. As LGBTQ employees are more likely to be sexually harassed, the City of Philadelphia is committed to fostering workplace environments where LGBTQ personnel can work alongside colleagues without their bodies and relationships becoming the topic of invasive and inappropriate conversations.

This is not a process that should be rushed, and our work will never be completely done. We must be committed to continuous improvement to make sure our policies and practices live up to our commitment to inclusion in changing times. But we know it’s worth it — not just to address the most egregious forms of harassment that we can easily identify, but to eliminate other actions that make people feel uncomfortable in their workplace. We are all happier and more productive when we don’t have to check our identities at the door, but instead are welcome to bring our whole selves to the office and are valued for the perspectives we bring from our diverse backgrounds.

Jane Slusser is Mayor Kenney’s chief of staff. Christine Derenick-Lopez is the mayor’s chief administrative officer. Also contributing to this piece were Nolan Atkinson, chief diversity and inclusion officer; Amber Hikes, director of LGBT affairs; and Jovida Hill, director of women’s engagement.