Yet HR is often touted as a confidential recourse for employees who are mistreated, which is why many find it troubling that women who have experienced sexual harassment at work say they felt discouraged from speaking with HR personnel because they feared retaliation. In fact, a study shows that 75 percent of employees face retaliation when they speak up.
Still, McCord emphasizes that employees should be able to talk to anyone in management and get the same result they'd receive from HR. "That's not an HR problem, that's a cultural problem," she tells CNBC Make It. "You either tolerate that s---t or you don't. Period. End of story."
Denise Young Smith, who previously served as Apple's head of worldwide human resources and is now an executive-in-residence at Cornell Tech, has a similar take. While HR is one of the levers of recourse employees have within an organization, she says, employees should also feel comfortable speaking with any leader, all the way up to the CEO of the company.
"Everyone owns the responsibility for a culture that is intolerant of these kinds of behaviors," says Smith. "You must implement processes, and levers and a culture of trust."
That's where leaders come in, she says. Company heads establish the organization's core values, the business environment and set the course for what's acceptable in the workplace.
As employers rethink their company culture in light of recent sexual harassment allegations, it's critical that they treat the work environment as a core business strategy, not just as an issue over on the HR side, says Tina Tchen, the lawyer spearheading the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund and Michelle Obama's former chief of staff.