What foodservice directors can learn from Uber’s sexual harassment scandal

woman waiting for uber

While the shoulder-pad style of the “Working Girl” era is over, the sorts of on-the-job sexual harassment depicted in that film are not. Earlier this year, a former Uber employee published a blog alleging the company failed to address female workers’ claims of managerial misconduct—after which the ride-sharing firm conducted an internal and external audit, fired more than 20 employees and suffered the loss of several executives, including CEO Travis Kalanick, whom shareholders pressured to resign after the scandal.

But the fallout from sexual harassment isn’t just a concern for tech startups. The foodservice industry is among the sectors with the most sex-based charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to data journalism site FiveThirtyEight. Here’s how foodservice operations can work to avoid Uber’s missteps by building a culture that meets claims head-on and combats sexism in their operations.

1. Create a framework

Building a roadmap for managers to handle allegations can make all the difference. “As an HR professional, you should never dismiss any type of issue that’s brought to your attention,” says Sonia Miranda, senior associate director of human resources for auxiliary services at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, which provides training, support and policies to the university’s dining program. “Uber should have had a formal reporting and investigation process in place.” One important policy to prevent and address sexual harassment is the division’s no-retaliation policy for staff who come forward. Employees learn about the policy during onboarding, training and through communication boards posted across the dining halls.

At Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the dining program has adopted the university’s principles that guide employee expectations and define what inclusion, integrity, respect, service and social justice look like on the job. “While it is not specific to sexual harassment, if you live by the principles, sexual harassment should not take place,” says Liz Poore, the university's director of residential dining services.

2. Train and retrain

employee training

USC educates employees about dining services’ sexual harassment policies from all angles. Managers receive the policy as part of their onboarding paperwork and complete sexual harassment training during their seven-day supervisor training. They are also provided an online portal where they can access the policies later on. But it’s not a one-time deal, Miranda says. Staff get a refresher on sexual harassment policies and prevention at least three times a year.

3. Rely on experts

woman giving lecture

Partnering closely with subject matter experts is important because laws regarding workplace harassment are changing all the time, Miranda says. USC Auxiliary Services partners with the school’s Office of Equity and Diversity to stay up to date and provide extra training. For instance, after a pattern of complaints emerged, Miranda brought in a member of the Office of Equity and Diversity team to conduct an emergency sexual harassment training. “We wanted people to understand that this was serious, and we sent a strong message,” she says. Miranda says offering one-on-one training or counseling with HR experts can also address gaps in training.

4. Give employees options

handshake

Dining employees can report harassment at USC in several different ways. Foodservice workers at the school often report to five different supervisors, so they can choose who they want to talk to about any concerns. In addition, managers encourage staff to go directly to HR or the Office of Equity and Diversity if they so choose. “Having various option helps when you don’t feel comfortable reporting to a supervisor,” Miranda says. 

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