InvestmentNews‘ recent survey on #MeToo laid out the dimensions of the financial advisory industry’s sexual harassment problem. Thirty-one percent of the 345 financial advisers who responded to the survey said they had personally experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. That number rises to 60% among female respondents.

Almost 80% of respondents overall said sexual harassment was a problem in the financial advisory industry, with 13% calling it a significant problem.

Whether the sexual misconduct consists of crude remarks, unwanted attention or assault, it places a burden on those who are the target of such misconduct, and may act as a deterrent to their successful pursuit and advancement in careers at advisory firms.

(More: MeToo: Even in the financial advice industry, sexual harassment is a serious problem)

While it’s natural to deplore the situation, what’s likely to prove more useful is to think about what advisory firms can do about the problem. Our survey provides some tips in the form of information gathered about what firms are and aren’t doing in this area.

Communicating policies

For example, given all the news headlines about #MeToo scandals over the last year and a half, one might assume that workplaces would have responded by reviewing or rolling out policies regarding sexual harassment and communicating those policies to their employees.

But in the InvestmentNews survey, just 59% of respondents said their firm distributes information on its policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment, or material about acceptable conduct; and more than a third (35%) said their firm does not provide any material about its policies on sexual harassment. And while 72% of respondents work at firms that have written rules on this topic, 16% said their firm does not have written rules. Another 12% weren’t sure.

(More: Stats from the InvestmentNews survey on sexual harassment)

In addition to letting employees know about their policies around sexual harassment, firms should make clear how an employee who experiences sexual misconduct can report it to management. Only 60% of survey respondents said their firm had a clear protocol for reporting sexual harassment, while 21% said there wasn’t a clear protocol and 19% weren’t sure. That lack of protocol is probably one of the reasons why 71% of respondents who have experienced sexual harassment said they never reported it.

A firm’s culture is something that’s hard to put your finger on, let alone revise in response to a problem like sexual misconduct, but having policies and procedures on sexual harassment would be a good place to start.

Moreover, having such policies and procedures isn’t just about doing the right thing for employees and building the kind of culture that will support female advisers. The #MeToo revelations in other industries spawned numerous lawsuits. Advisory firms should consider the liability they could face if a sexual harassment charge at the firm resulted in a lawsuit, and their policies and processes regarding sexual misconduct were found to be lacking.

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