April 15, 2020

Harvard Business Review Issue on Sexual Harassment Spotlights Ombuds Programs

The latest issue of HBR focuses on efforts by organizations to combat sexual harassment. Organizational Ombuds are mentioned in two articles: "Why Sexual Harassment Programs Backfire," which recommends Ombuds are the first of several alternate complaint systems for organizations; and "What Happens When an Employee Calls the Ombudsman?" by Charles Howard.

The first article by professors Frank Dobbin (Harvard) and Alexandra Kalev (Tel Aviv University) explains how Ombuds offices work and references IOA standards. However, they provide some questionable examples:
These offices are becoming more popular in the rest of the corporate world: Thirteen percent of U.S. companies have them, to handle issues ranging from bullying to termination. Among these are American Express, The Cheesecake Factory, McKinsey, Nike, Chevron, Mars, and Uber. The Cheesecake Factory created its office in response to sexual harassment complaints in 2009. In 2017, after an Uber employee published a scathing blog about the company’s culture of harassment, Uber hired the former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder to investigate. Holder recommended creating an ombuds office to encourage employees to bring problems forward, and Uber’s board did just that. 
In actuality, only McKinsey, Chevron, and Mars have Ombuds programs. The other organizations never actually created true Ombuds programs and American Express shuttered its program a couple years ago.

The other article by Chuck Howard, IOA's Executive Director, gives a short history and overview of the profession. More importantly, he provides three real-life examples of how an Ombuds handled a case. (HBR "Why Sexual Harassment Programs Backfire"; "What Happens When an Employee Calls the Ombudsman?")


  1. Shading HBR? LOL.

    1. Thanks, Angry Ombuds. If I'm wrong and the Cheesecake Factory, Nike, or Uber have Ombuds programs, I'll retract.