Tone at the Top: Fostering a Culture of Respect for Women and for All
Over the past three years, this newsletter has conveyed my advocacy for a myriad of actions supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in our schools and colleges. Together we strive for every member of the university community to feel welcome, valued and safe, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, ideology, gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression. Yet, the most recent revelations of sexual harassment in a range of public and private sector workplaces expose a culture of discrimination and mistreatment against women that has existed in our society for far too long.
With national headlines swirling around us, I have recently been in conversations about how Vanderbilt can contribute positively to the transformative #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. So, let’s ask ourselves, how do we ensure those in our own community feel protected, respected and enabled to speak up? How can we contribute, more broadly, to the dialogue and solutions surrounding this issue?
Our own Owen Graduate School of Management faculty member Tim Vogus, the Brownlee O. Currey Jr. Professor of Management, recently taught about strategies to address “bro culture” — specifically regarding the toxic culture at Uber. Vogus specializes in workplace safety and advises organizations around the country on how to foster healthy corporate culture. He says the “tone at the top” is critical. Leaders must create conditions that enable employees to take interpersonal risk and are conducive to speaking up. Vogus suggests that instead of dismissing or explaining away something that might seem (or one might hope) to be an anomaly, leaders should explore it further to see how it might serve as a window into the health of the organization. We must be willing to challenge long-held assumptions and actively cultivate an open, respectful environment.
Here at Vanderbilt we cherish our culture of collaboration, creativity and civility. This culture does not happen in a vacuum and must be continually fostered – a community where people are more and more comfortable speaking up. Town hall forums, classroom discussions and online essays like this one are just a few of the ways that we do this. We also must continue to model healthy dialogue and embody respect for our fellow colleagues. As we do, we create an open and inclusive workplace for all.
I recognize that Vanderbilt is not immune to cases of misconduct and harassment, and I want to remind all of the resources we have in place to support those in need. Last month, we announced a redesign of our equal employment, student accessibility and Title IX services. These services, formerly managed under EAD, have been split up into three separate offices: Title IX and Student Discrimination, Student Access Services and Equal Employment Opportunity.
The reorganization was undertaken to enhance our existing services and address increased demand across all of these areas. With respect to gender equity, sexual misconduct and discrimination issues related to students, Molly Zlock, an expert in this field, recently joined the university to lead the new Title IX and Student Discrimination office. Faculty and staff matters, including gender and non-gender based discrimination, are directly handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity office. The new approach was informed by input from individuals across campus and is designed to ensure the university is providing best-in-class, dedicated service. I encourage all with discrimination and harassment claims to report such directly to the appropriate office. We must ensure all members of the community are protected from discrimination and misconduct and that concerns are investigated promptly and thoroughly.
When I started as Provost in the fall of 2014, our Project Safe Center for Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response first opened its doors. This central resource is available for all VU students, faculty and staff impacted by sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking and sexual harassment. Three years ago, the Faculty Senate launched the Golden Opportunity/Golden Obligation campaign to ensure all faculty members understand what constitutes an incident of sexual misconduct or power-based personal violence and what resources are available. In-person trainings are now offered directly by the Project Safe Center staff, and include reviews of Title IX requirements and reporting obligations for faculty and staff.
Last year, Vanderbilt also had more faculty and staff complete voluntary Kognito trainings than any other university that offered the program. The interactive and fully animated Kognito modules help faculty and staff learn how to identify individuals showing signs of depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide — and how to specifically refer students to the right resources. While Kognito and the Golden Opportunity/Golden Obligation campaign primarily center on student support, the trainings offer important insights into the effects of sexual abuse and harassment, the importance of addressing these situations, as well as the skills to better equip us all in helping each other. Updated on-line training modules will be available in the months to come.
With the recent increased national awareness, there have also been widespread calls for greater accountability. For example, earlier this month, the National Science Foundation released a notice to university presidents and chancellors stating that “NSF does not tolerate sexual harassment or any kind of harassment, within the agency, at grantee organizations, field sites, or anywhere NSF-funded science and education are conducted.” However, making such formal declarations are only one step. We at Vanderbilt will continue to do our part to make sure that accountability and respect of others is foremost.
I ask each of you to embrace and champion an inclusive, civil culture in our day-to-day lives through your actions and your leadership. We must treat one another with kindness and professionalism. Further, we must hold each other accountable and to a high standard. We must speak up and support others who do so. With your engagement, I know that Vanderbilt will continue to make a difference and be a model for others.
Susan R. Wente
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