Over the past year, women across our country have bravely come forward to shed light on the culture that permits and facilitates harassment in the workplace. Because the sheer number of stories has revealed just how prevalent these problems are - from Hollywood to Wall Street and throughout politics, the media, and academia - some have attempted to use this disturbing prevalence to shield themselves from accountability for actions under their control. That is nonsense and I reject that, which is why I’ve reviewed both my State and political operations, identified wrongdoers, and removed six individuals. As a leader in this state, I know we all have a responsibility to create a better Illinois for everyone.
I have made it a personal mission to take this issue head-on and correct past mistakes. I wish I would have done so sooner. Since the beginning of this year, I have met with more than 100 women working in the Capitol, both within my office and outside my office. I asked questions that I should have asked before and made changes to create a better environment.
One of the first meetings I attended was with a group of women in their 20s and 30s. I heard stories of inappropriate behavior, both inside and outside of the Capitol. What’s worse, these young women did not feel there was anyone willing to listen or take action to alleviate their concerns.
What became clear is that I didn’t do enough, and that we, collectively, have failed in the Capitol to ensure everyone can reliably, confidentially and safely report harassment. I thought the pathways were there, but they weren’t.
Throughout the course of these meetings, when I learned of activities that did not reflect an appropriate workplace environment, I acted by terminating or demoting those responsible. In one meeting I learned of a supervisor who was not taking staff concerns seriously, and subsequently learned that supervisor had failed to report allegations of abuse and harassment. That supervisor was removed. In another case, I learned of an individual making inappropriate comments to several female staffers. That individual no longer works in my Office.
I also heard stories where the prior process for reporting and handling these issues did work. I learned of a legislative secretary who was being harassed by a male lobbyist, and despite this lobbyist’s attempts to suppress her, this woman summoned the courage to report his abuses. We immediately investigated and contacted the lobbyist’s employer. He is no longer a lobbyist.
I am committed to enacting change. At my initiative, we retained Maggie Hickey, a former federal prosecutor and Inspector General. She is conducting an independent investigation of all allegations of discrimination and harassment. Ms. Hickey will bring to light any additional problems. When she does, I am committed to acting immediately.
While this independent investigation takes place, my new Chief of Staff Jessica Basham is leading a review of our policies and practices. Our office is taking immediate steps to improve. We have established a new process to bring complaints so that Jessica knows of any future allegations and reports them to me. We will enforce in-person sexual harassment training. Directors and supervisors will receive continuing training on how to better handle workplace behavior. I am accountable for my office and will ensure that any issues are dealt with quickly and appropriately.
I have the responsibility to make sure our workplace is safer, equitable and non-discriminatory. Harassment of any kind and workplace bullying will simply not be tolerated - period. There will be a zero tolerance policy for any kind of harassment. Leaders cannot leave these issues to others. Now is the opportunity to ask ourselves what we are doing to make Illinois a better workplace for everyone.