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Kramer: Opportunity to make positive change is ‘huge’


After a lifelong career in human resources and advocating for women in the workplace, Ambassador Mary Kramer is beginning her next task to ensure one of Iowa’s most public workplaces is safe and professional for all employees. 

Kramer, a former Iowa senator, recently was appointed to serve as adviser to the Iowa Senate in an effort to improve workplace culture within the legislative body. The appointment is in response to a lawsuit in which a former Iowa Senate Republican staffer was awarded $1.75 million after she claimed she was fired in May 2013 just hours after filing a complaint alleging a toxic work environment caused by sexual harassment.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix announced the appointment in a news release. Dix said it became clear to him the Senate is “in need of change.”

“Sexual harassment is a serious issue in the American workplace and Senate Republicans are going to use this regrettable incident to show Iowans and Americans how it is appropriately addressed,” Dix said in the release.

Kramer, who will fill the role in a voluntary capacity, is no stranger to workplace culture. She spent her career as a human resources executive at companies like Younkers and Wellmark, and served as president of the Iowa Senate in 1997. Her time as an elected official in the Iowa Legislature gave what she said was valuable insight into some of the issues facing state leaders.

Kramer took time last week to answer a few questions for Lift IOWA readers, shining light on her advisory role, the process Senate leaders will take, and how businesses may explore their own workplace culture to ensure a safe, professional environment for all.

Describe this advisory role for us. How long will you assist the Senate in its efforts?

It is (a temporary appointment). I will serve as an adviser recommending both policy and process changes. Leaders will make decisions and be responsible for implementation. 

What are the biggest issues the Senate is hoping to address within the legislative body? 

All factions engaged in the legislative branch hopefully will agree and adopt a common vision of the desired future in the legislative branch of state government. That common vision assures everyone a safe, respectful and professional work environment. An environment includes processes for sharing inappropriate or questionable behavior without fear of retribution.

While I am working with Senate Republican leadership, my recommendations will address the workplace culture of the legislative branch. It is a very complex management challenge due to the variety of workplace teams. Each caucus in each chamber has a staff team. There is a bipartisan service bureau team that develops legislation and makes financial projections. The secretary of the Senate and the stated clerk of the House have work teams that manage the processes required to carry out their work. Elected officials and their clerks are a group of individuals that become colleagues, but not necessarily a team. The lobby — both paid and volunteer — form a large group that impacts all the other teams, as does the media. Some of the media are credentialed and have access to the floor of each chamber, but the galleries and back of chamber are open to the public and to all media. There is no single entity responsible for the work of the legislative branch of state government.

Is it too early to tell the process that will be used to identify issues and solutions? How do you plan to start the process? Is there a timeline?

Most observers are focused on harassment policies. It is true harassment is an issue that’s in the spotlight  in many industries and nationally, as well as locally. It must be addressed; however, if our long-term goal is to create that safe, respectful and professional environment, there are other human resource policies and procedures that are needed.  

I am hopeful there will be significant steps taken before the session begins (Jan. 8). This will allow the Legislature to focus on the work Iowans expect from them. The work of developing ongoing human resources policy and procedure will continue. As in all organizations, it is never “final.”

It’s fair to say more light has been shed on the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace this year than in recent memory. What is the best way for businesses to explore their own workplace culture and identify solutions to ensure a safe, professional environment for both women and men?

While the discussion of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment has led to some difficult and sometimes embarrassing discussions, the challenge and opportunity to make positive change is huge. People who refuse to acknowledge this change do so at their peril. The responsibility of leadership first and foremost is to create a vision of the desired future. That vision must include parameters that assure a workplace that is safe and respectful, that has processes that encourage reporting of behaviors and events without fear of retribution, and that values the work of every individual at every level. The expectations for workplace behavior are clear.

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