Why Are GM and United Air Late to Address the Sexual Harassment Issue?

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Presumably, almost all large American companies have carefully crafted sexual harassment policies based on well-established guidelines set by the government and human resources executives. However, some mammoth public corporations have been very late to articulate their programs, at least to the broader public. Recently, among these are General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) and United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL).

In the case of United Airlines, a statement about its “zero tolerance” position was almost certainly a reaction to problems the carrier had that went public. According to the Chicago Business Journal:

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz this morning delivered a forceful message on the hot topic of the moment — sexual harassment — in a memo to more than 87,000 United employees.

The memo came in the wake of a blunt op-ed piece in the Washington Post on Sunday penned by Sara Nelson, the often outspoken international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, the union that represents thousands of United flight attendants.

Nelson in her piece decried how the airline industry has over the years objectified female flight attendants for marketing purposes.

Munoz has had a tin ear for public relations before, having botched the carrier’s reaction to a passenger who was dragged off a United flight in April.

GM CEO Mary Barra said the auto company should have a “harassment free workplace,” which begs the question of what its workplace was before. According to The Detroit Free Press:

General Motors is committed to creating a sexual “harassment-free” workplace, CEO Mary Barra said Monday.

“It’s unacceptable to not have a policy (against sexual harassment),” she said. Her year-end interview and press conference at an Automotive Press Association reception came less than a week after Time magazine named the “Silence Breakers” — women who have spoken up about sexual harassment — to be 2017’s person of the year.

“We encourage our employees that if something is happening, that they raise it. There will be no retaliation,” said Barra, who is the first woman to lead a major auto company

Whether it be the Time cover story or harassment incidents that have recently been disclosed, companies ought to be able to turn to policies that are already in place and show that they have had rules about the issue for years.