Culture change, not policy, is key to addressing sexual harassment in the Colorado legislature, experts say
Weeks after a series of sexual harassment allegations roiled the state Capitol, top Colorado lawmakers will meet Friday to review a workplace sexual harassment policy that — in the minds of experts and some alleged victims — may be doing as much to perpetuate a culture of sexual harassment as to prevent it.
The questions come amid a growing national reckoning that has toppled giants in Hollywood, the media and Congress and left at least four Colorado state lawmakers accused of making unwanted sexual advances by colleagues, aides and lobbyists.
Employers across the U.S., from the private sector to the state’s Gold Dome, are looking at how to best respond to and prevent future cases. In Colorado, that has meant shining a spotlight on a complaint process at the legislature that received little public attention until last month.
In interviews with The Denver Post, experts in harassment law and human resources offered mixed reviews of the state’s policy, saying it has both strengths and weaknesses. But ultimately, some of the experts said, the underlying culture in a building where lobbyists and public employees interact on a daily basis with men and women of power may be even more important than any document or procedure.
“If they are putting together a bipartisan process with outside consultants — I would say that’s great, let’s do that,” said Rachel Arnow-Richman, a University of Denver law professor who focuses on workplace law. “But the legislature shouldn’t limit itself to the policy. Instead of saying what’s wrong with the policy, ask what’s wrong with our system and our environment?”
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