After nearly 20 years of providing confidential consultations to humanitarian staff from over 100 international humanitarian organizations, we’ve heard far more stories of gender based violence and harassment in humanitarian settings than available statistics would indicate. The stories have important implications for nearly every area of humanitarian operations – including management and leadership, security and risk assessment, team functioning and organizational effectiveness. If agencies truly understood the trail of loss that cycles through the industry in repeating fashion, they might rush to diminish its impact. Consequently, addressing GBV is increasingly a topic we’re including in nearly every training and management opportunity we have. The reasons for this are clear.
One theme found in the stories we hear is that climate matters. The way leaders conduct themselves sets the tone for the entire organization. What they say and do, and what they allow from others, shapes the corporate culture. Time and again, we have found that serious problems result when the workplace atmosphere tolerates inappropriate humor or gender bias. The recent troubles at Uber are a case study for how a lack of accountability plays out. The longer the delay, the greater the fallout.
Addressing this issue will take work on multiple fronts. We can begin by evaluating leaders and the leadership selection process carefully with this issue in mind. Let’s train managers to recognize the early warning signs and respond effectively. We must fight the myth of the “isolated incident.” Finally, we need accountability structures that work when these safeguards fail.
When we talk about gender based violence, we rightly experience outrage on behalf of individuals directly targeted. But the workplace culture is inextricably linked to this tragedy, and failure to address the “small stuff” ultimately impacts us all.