‘Rape Haven’ Princeton Eating Club: Guide to Avoiding Sexist Culture

December 3, 2014 2:41 pm

This article explores the continuing issue of organizational sexism and how companies can improve their processes through diversity-and-inclusion best practices. Please forward it to your employee-resource-group members (especially women’s groups) and your HR, compliance and communications staff.

By Barbara Frankel

Tiger Inn Rape HavenTiger Inn, an eating club at Princeton University, is a blatant example of a sexist and misogynistic culture. Your organization probably isn’t in its league but wherever pockets of sexism—or racism—exist, there are lessons to be learned.

After the words “Rape Haven” were spray painted on the stone walls outside Tiger Inn in December: Two officers of the club were removed after one sent out an email of a woman engaged in a sex act on the club’s dance floor, accompanied by crude comments calling the woman an “Asian chick.” Another officer sent an email asking: “Ever wonder who we have to thank (blame) for gender equality. Looking for someone to blame for the influx of girls? Come tomorrow and help boo Sally Frank.”

Sally Frank is the woman who sued to have women admitted to the club. In 1991, after the Supreme Court declined to hear Tiger Inn’s appeal, it became the last of Princeton’s 11 eating clubs to go co-ed.

The atmosphere at Tiger Inn remains “hostile toward women,” according to complaints from members, reports The New York Times. But Tiger Inn—and Princeton—is not the only institution with continued sexism. Yale University, for example, has been in the news for a sexual-harassment case at its School of Medicine and allegations that the university ignores or downplays harassment complaints.

What should you do if you work in an atmosphere where sexism—or racism—is tolerated or even encouraged? Here are five best practices from our research and interviews with Top 50 companies that have a much better track record in hiring, retaining and promoting women than other companies.

1. Clear communications on policies.

In our recent story Bill Cosby: What Do You Say and Do At Work?, a very senior communications expert from a Top 50 company said: “A company has to stand by its values, which include respect for everyone. This is about when a situation comes up, employees knowing they can bring it up and have full support to deal with it right now. … If anybody has an issue and feels someone is abusing their position of power, right away you deal with it. The organization must respect a person brave enough to bring this to light. There are a lot of women and others who have been abused.”

His point is that anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies must be clearly stated, well communicated to everyone in the organization, and enforced equally.

2. Visible support from the top.

Every company on the Top 50 list has a CEO who visibly and constantly communicates the commitment to diversity, often through quotes on the website and internal and external communications. That includes an inclusive—and harassment-free—workplace.

Stephen R. Howe Jr., EY Americas Managing Partner, told DiversityInc: “I set the tone in our organization as the leader in the U.S. and the Americas. People are watching the message I’m sending. My job is to run the business. This is fundamental to our business.”

3. Cultural competence and diversity training.

Sexism, racism and other bias are frequently the result of ignorance. More than 90 percent of the DiversityInc Top 50 have mandatory diversity training for their managers. Tools such as DiversityInc’s Meeting in a Box can dispel myths, educate the workforce, and offer people advice on how to successfully have work relationships with people who are different from them.

4. Use your employee resource groups.

With DiversityInc Top 50 companies’ reporting participation in employee resource groups at an all-time high of 24 percent of the workforce, this is the perfect time to engage your groups in fighting issues of harassment and discrimination in your workforce. Groups can hold forums and discussions, as well as disseminate educational information. More than 75 percent of DiversityInc Top 50 CEOs meet regularly with employee-resource-group leaders to understand what issues are confronting the workforce, including issues of harassment, sexism and racism.

5. Involve white men.

While most diversity-and-inclusion efforts are aimed at increasing representation of other groups, lack of inclusion of white men can be the source of problematic workplace behavior. Top 50 companies have made their inclusion and involvement as diversity champions a priority, primarily by convincing them of the business benefits of having a diverse—and inclusive—workplace.