The National Academies Press recently published a Consensus Study Report titled “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.” This report from the Committee on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia provides a comprehensive view on this challenging topic and also references and supports the role of ombuds offices.
The support focuses on the confidentiality of the ombuds office and on how it connects with the organization, i.e., set up outside normal structures. “Reporting channels outside of the usual workplace hierarchy, such as an ombudsperson, who can receive reports of harassment but are not officially part of the Human Resources or management response to reports of harassment, can provide critical independent support to persons experiencing harassment.” (p 140) Further, the report highlighted that “‘having a confidential place to go can mean the difference between getting help and staying silent'” (quoting from Not Alone – The first Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, Office of the President of the United States, April 2014).
The report also concludes that “academic ombuds offices are one of the few places on campus that students [and others] can go to confidentially report an incident.” Thus, the organizational ombuds office can serve a critical role in supporting all members of a community impacted by harassment concerns. And, because the ombuds role is impartial, the ombuds can support and assist all persons involved.
Not sure where to go for help, Go Ombuds!
What makes an organizational ombuds office different from other available resources? I often get this question and, in answer, I point to the IOA (International Ombudsman Association) Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice that include Independence, Confidentiality, Informality, and Impartiality. While some resources within an organization have some “parts” of these as features, only the organizational ombuds has all four as its core standards.
Today, let’s explore Independence.
The IOA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice state the following on Independence:
Code of Ethics – Independence
The Ombudsman is independent in structure, function, and appearance to the highest degree possible within the organization.
Standards of Practice – Independence
1.1 The Ombudsman Office and the Ombudsman are independent from other organizational entities.
1.2 The Ombudsman holds no other position within the organization which might compromise independence.
1.3 The Ombudsman exercises sole discretion over whether or how to act regarding an individual’s concern, a trend or concerns of multiple individuals over time. The Ombudsman may also initiate action on a concern identified through the Ombudsman’ direct observation.
1.4 The Ombudsman has access to all information and all individuals in the organization, as permitted by law.
1.5 The Ombudsman has authority to select Ombudsman Office staff and manage Ombudsman Office budget and operations.
From a practical standpoint and for potential visitors to an ombuds office, the question of interest, is “where” does the ombuds report? If the ombuds reports administratively to the “highest degree possible” within the organization, then the Code is met. The standards spell out other aspects to create separation between the ombuds and the organization served. This is needed to help the ombuds bring an outside view of organization to the issues brought to the office. At the same time, the office also needs connection to the organization to be effective.
One ombuds described this as being an inside-outsider and I think in terms of being separate from and connected to the organization served. Both concepts are simultaneously in play and provide the ombuds with a point of view that can be helpful. Often people bring only one perspective of a situation to the ombuds; however, considering from multiple perspectives can provide multiple paths toward resolution. We so often only “see” things from one perspective – ours – while the ombuds can help find multiple different vantage points.
At the same time, in order to help provide these different points, the ombuds also needs some understanding and knowledge of the organization. For example, after discussion with the ombuds, a visitor might decide that existing resources of the organization may be helpful; however, they had either not considered the option or were unaware of how the resource worked before meeting with the ombuds. Providing this type of information helps people develop options and is an important ombuds function.
Thus, next time you want multiple points of view, go visit the ombuds, the organization inside-outsider!
Well – it is “official” !!! The American Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section (voluntary association of attorneys) has designated October 11, 2018 as Ombuds Day!
There was much talk of Ombuds Day at a recent Ombuds Committee meeting at the ABA Dispute Resolution Section conference last week in Washington, D.C. Here’s a photo of the group with Roy Baroff, NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds (on the left facing you in the back row).
Look for future information for both local, state, and national celebrations.
It’s nice to know that we ombuds finally have our very own day!!
Here’s an interview and story from NC State News on the Staff Ombuds pilot program.
Ombuds Expands Services to Help Staff
17 zone meetings in 6 days with 250 people.
That’s part of the NC State Staff Ombuds services roll out!
Over the past three weeks I’ve met with Housekeeping Zones across NC State. I’ve met folks at 6:15 a.m., just coming off their shift and 6:30 p.m., just getting started. I’ve met folks with 29 years work experience to three days!
I appreciated the warm welcome from Zone managers and all who attended and folks demonstrated a solid understanding of the staff ombuds role by offering on point comments – you’re not HR, but you could still help with a workplace issue (yes) – and asking some great questions ranging from “Where does the term Ombuds come from?” (It’s from Sweden) to “How much does it cost?” (there’s no charge as it’s part of the many benefits staff receive here at NC State).
My overall take away from these meetings is that NC State has outstanding Zones and outstanding employees that keep the campus clean and allow for all to work and learn! To be sure, there are likely some issues (that’s true in any work place) and it is my goal for the Staff Ombuds Office to be of service in resolving workplace concerns.
Thanks again for the hospitality and see you around campus!