In many ways, it is no surprise that situations that reflect abuse of power have come to light in various industry sectors. The pervasiveness of questionable behaviour by those in positions of power is also not shocking. Courageous women who have publically shared their stories are our role models. Their boldness has allowed so many to now come forward and publically state their experiences and victimisation of verbal, physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

We can anticipate more claims will follow with a broader representation by most, if not all industry sectors. For those employees who are in the public eye and have celebrity status or high visibility, this has provided a runway not just to come forward, but equally important to create significant consequences for the perpetrators or predators of this type of behaviour.

We must also though turn and steer our focus to the majority of the employee population. The imbalance of power exists in every dynamic from teacher – student, camp counsellor – camper, priest- parishioner, boss – employee, professional services – client, and so on.

Employees seek guidance, instruction and mentorship from those who play a role in deciding everything from annual raises, performance reviews, bonuses and sponsorship. This means they have a tremendous amount of power relative to the fate of employees, be it their own direct reports or those of their colleagues.

Unless you have huge visibility, the path towards addressing the potential abuse of power is not very clear. Yes, of course, there are channels such as Human Resources, Human Rights Commissions and legal recourse. However if you are low in the pecking order, or a single mom or have dependents or financial strife what true recourse do you have if the perpetrator threatens your job and your livelihood?

It also becomes an issue of “he said / she said.” Investigations are lengthy, arduous, and emotionally painful. If as an employee you are already compromised by any of these above stressful situations, having the energy and the fear of losing your job becomes daunting. Predators know this and often prey on the weak.

Furthermore, an everyday person does not have the weight of the media with instant communication and illumination of these awful transgressions.

It has always been incumbent on organisations to hire employees with the right values. This should always be the case. The greater hope is that now with this kind of publicity, organizations are hopefully placing greater scrutiny on bad behaviour.

In essence, corporations have a responsibility to protect the well being of employees while they are on the company watch. All employees deserve and require ethical and respectful treatment.

Our values dictate how we treat and communicate to others. Those in positions of power must appreciate that they have even greater influence as many employees aspire to advance to these levels. This then requires an even greater sensitivity on behalf of senior executives.

Values are equivalent to our DNA. They are laid down early in life and form the foundation for all our interactions. If leaders do not treat employees or colleagues with respect, rest assured that is the culture that is fostered.

Any form of lack of integrity shapes a company’s brand. If an organisation dismisses or makes excuses for behaviour that is not aligned with a company’s values, then that organisation is culpable.

Think about this. Socially we choose our friends based on compatible values. When values are not shared, these friendships are either derailed and the ultimate conclusion we often hear others stating is, “we parted ways as we do not share the same values.” In essence, there is a lack of respect for questionable values and therefore no longer is a basis for that relationship.

This is no different for organisations. Regardless of how an organisation defines their brand, it is their senior leaders who ultimately represent the brand. Company culture extends to your consumer base. You will never fool the public.

Hiring leaders with the right values who demonstrate respect, exhibit altruism, and display compassion is paramount. Leaders must reinforce behaviours that represent the highest form of integrity and ethics. All leaders must be cognizant of their power and use their influence in positive ways. To do any less, and even worse, is to abuse that power which is a vagrant disregard for humankind.

Organisations must act swiftly and assume that any form of behavior that is not aligned with company values, if tolerated, can breed a platform for potentially inappropriate or abusive behaviour.

It is said that company culture is defined by the worst behavior an organisation is prepared to tolerate. If as an organisation you care about the well being of your employees, you cannot underestimate how leaders will define your brand.

Hiring and promoting the right kind of leaders will allow you to be the employee and consumer choice. Failure to act on this puts your employees and brand at great risk.