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The 2024 Executive Seminar, hosted by NautaDutilh addressed the issue of (sexually) transgressive behaviour and the responsibilities of executives in managing such issues.

Key speakers including Mariëtte Hamer (government commissioner for combating inappropriate behaviour and sexual violence), Frederieke Leeflang (chair of the board of the Netherlands Public Broadcasting (NPO) and Maartje Govaert (partner and head of Employment team at NautaDutilh) shared their insights, emphasising the importance of proactive management and robust policy frameworks in creating a safe working environment, under the guidance of our Inclusion partners Petra Zijp and Geert Raaijmakers.

In practice, there is a tendency for executives (both management and supervisory board members) not to feel responsible for complaints relating to (sexually) transgressive behaviour. This often results in the complaint not immediately receiving the attention it requires. It is important to take up a complaint adequately and to ensure that the complainant feels heard. Otherwise a complaint can escalate and result in reputational damage for all involved including the company. To anticipate this, several things are important.

#1 Clear policies for easy reporting
It is important for companies to have clear and frame-setting policies in place regarding social safety and (sexually) transgressive behaviour. In this respect, companies should consider implementing a policy that sets a low threshold for voicing complaints. Some concrete starting points for this could be the appointment of a confidential advisor and the adoption of a speak up policy. Furthermore, there should be a clear plan of action for the company itself regarding how to address complaints related to (sexually) transgressive behaviour. This is because, in most cases, initiating a plan to deal with complaints only after they have been made is, by definition, too late.

#2 Encouraging preventive dialogue and risk analysis
In addition to having policies in place, it is also important to start a dialogue about (sexually) transgressive behaviour and to conduct a (preventive) risk analysis within the organisation. This is because individuals need to be able to express to each other what they perceive as desirable or not, and they must also be aware of the remedies available in case of an incident. It is crucial to ensure that the workforce is adequately and regularly informed about the content of the relevant policies. This will help raise awareness and reflect the urgency of the topic. There are several ways to achieve this, such as providing training or setting up (small) discussion groups.

#3 Proactive responsiveness management and boards
The relationship between members of the management board and supervisory board also plays an important role. Article 2.6 of the Dutch Corporate Governance Code states that both the executive and supervisory boards have an obligation to be alert to signals of (suspected) wrongdoing and irregularities. Supervisory board members’ primary role is to oversee the conduct of the board. However, this does not preclude the management from receiving support in addressing complaints related to (sexually) transgressive behaviour. In fact, highlighting the positive aspects and suggesting ways to handle such reports can also contribute significantly to enhancing the corporate and governance structure.

#4 Active employee involvement in safety initiatives
Finally, it is important to consider the role of the works council. Based on the Works Councils Act, one of the responsibilities of the works council is to oversee and promote a safe working environment. Considering the potential for differing perspectives between management and supervisory officers on the one hand and the workforce on the other, engaging the works council in a discussion on (sexually) transgressive behaviour can provide a valuable perspective.

The seminar effectively demonstrated the necessity for a change in the way organisations address (sexually) transgressive behaviour, with a focus on prevention, responsiveness, and executive accountability. Continuous education and the revision of strategies in line with evolving legal and societal standards will further empower organisations to maintain safe and respectful workplaces.

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