How Hill Advisory Services Came To Be
It was the 1980s and the beginning of the legislation that declared sexual harassment against the law. Who would have thought of such a thing? A law declaring some of the bad behaviours in a workplace were no longer acceptable. Having worked in a variety of corporations over the preceding years, from private business to government departments in the field ofHuman Resources I’d seen many incidents of behaviours that were now categorized as sexual harassment. In fact I’d experienced some of those behaviours first hand and I hadn’t liked it! I had learned to be vocal and direct and did not let transgressors get away with sexual comments or behaviour. Because I had learned to defend myself in the business world, I automatically started to assist other women (at the time the vast majority of the sexual harassment complaints were females complaining about men’s behaviour).
When the law first was declared, no one wanted to speak about sexual harassment directly. It seemed that no one was willing to speak about intimate body parts, to call a spade a spade and to look at prevention as a way of dealing with the issues. I was asked by my Director to look at the provincial government’s existing Policy on behaviour in the workplace and update it, taking into consideration the new legislation. A task I happily took on. In developing the Policy I soon formed the opinion that some sort of training program needed to be developed to talk to employees about the law and what it meant. I developed a two hour training program that I labelled: Awareness and Prevention – Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. My boss liked it and agreed that I could pilot project. It was a workforce that was mostly male and from an area where we’d had a variety of complaints.
Off I went, flip chart in hand to teach a group of employees about sexual harassment. I didn’t know if I could handle the group but knew I presented to others as a strongly assertive female and so thought worse case – I can bluff my way through the training. My goal was to tell them what I needed to tell them in a manner that they could hear. At the first coffee break of the day I left the room to return to a quickly sketched drawing of a nude female form on the flip chart. Some of the participants were smiling and snickering – waiting to see my reaction. I looked at the drawing, walked over to the flip chart, said ‘Oh you forgot the nipples’ and casually drew them on in the appropriate place. Then I looked up and began discussing the next part of the training, flipping over the paper and moving on. I had arranged a series of workshops for several days at the same site and that was the only attempt to circumvent the training. By the end of the week my boss was hearing compliments about the training.
As a result, I became the go-to person for government training on the topic of sexual harassment. At the same time I was investigating sexual harassment complaints. One particular case came in and one of the staff representatives for the government union and I talked about the case and the investigation. He was a retired police officer and we both seemed to believe an investigation should be handled in a certain manner. We talked our respective bosses into letting us conduct a joint investigation – allowing him to stop his part of the investigation prior to determining the findings – so he wouldn’t find himself in a compromising situation. The investigation technique set a precedent. In fact even today I encourage unionized employers to work together with the union (with both union and employer representatives trained in investigation techniques) to jointly investigate appropriate complaints.
The more I trained staff the more I realized that was an important step to the legislation and people understanding what it meant. I began to incorporate case studies into the training. When I switched employers I took the training with me and began to advertise it with private employers and run some training courses on my days off. Then the Hill/Thomas case (in the states) hit the news! Sexual harassment became the trendy buzz words of the media. By now it was 1990 and I began the company that eventually was to be known as Hill Advisory Services.
Because of the Hill/Thomas situation, the local media, and the national media wanted to talk to someone about sexual harassment. Again, being in the right place at the right time – I became the go-to person to talk to. My fledgling company became well known through free advertising – as I appeared on TV, radio talk shows, CNN and newspapers. The topic of sexual harassment was ‘hot stuff’! A niche was found and explored and continues to be today.
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