Monday, December 4th, 2017
I write primarily from my experience in CEO Note to Self, not so much from theory. Here is some of my experience with sexual harassment/ assault/abuse and men and women in the workplace.
I have been involved in sexual harassment training and policy writing and resolution of ‘cases’ in all of my work as an Organizational Development executive. I tried to be pragmatic rather than outraged or amused at what can go on. Creating understanding in my male executive colleagues took some radical and spontaneous approaches. I was usually the only woman on the executive team. One group of men began to be silly and borderlined offensive with some humor or joke before the meeting. Then it crossed a line so I said, “You guys are making my uterus hurt,” Yes, I did say that. Yes, it brought total silence and then real offense and shock from the men. I said, “That’s kind of what it’s like for women–the topics don’t belong here at work if anywhere.” It was the most effective training/teaching I ever did.
There is wild and crazy behavior in any company and if you work in HR/OD you get over being shocked. Dildos in a desk drawer brought out during conversation. Fired. Showing private parts. Gone. Finding ways to look up a skirt or down a blouse as a common practice. Gone. Those are easy. I once was in a meeting in which a sincere group of people were trying to define behavior that was OK at work and what was sexual harassment. It was a perfect SNL skit. “Is it OK to kiss hello when in Europe? What if the lips touch or don’t touch the cheek? Can I rest a hand on the shoulder to reassure someone? What if someone uses the f-word? (This from a wareshouse woman?) Is the word ‘boob’ funny or offensive?” The outcome of the meeting was that offense is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to talk and that people had to speak up and say, “Don’t say that.” Then if it occured again, it was cause for a formal complaint.
People are attracted to one another in the workplace. They have on decent clothes, they face a common challenge, they talk intimately, sometimes there are celebrations and travel. This quite a nice environment compared to home where life is real and full of flaws. People are attracted to one another. Deep friendships are made. And affairs happen. And are hidden. Sort of. Affairs skew power and create hidden dynamics that can be unfair. And it’s so very human that it detracts from the strength of leadership. Not all ‘affairs’ are tawdry. Many relationships started at work are about deep love. Calling out the relationship can be dangerous. I’ve seen people be shunned and threatened by bringing the relationship into the public awareness of the workplace.
In my experience I saw top level executive men be vulnerable to flattery and I saw both women and men work to be beguiling to any men in power using different approaches. I was lucky enough to work where many women held top leadership roles. I did not see them abuse power with sexuality.
NO to any unwanted touch by anyone to anyone, anywhere at anytime and a ‘no’ has to be said.
YES, to having a safe immediate way for people to make offensive sexual innuendos or assault known and addressed
YES to suspension of someone accused of sexual harassment while a due process is used to investigate the validity
YES to common sense judgement about human error in humor and language.
NO to abuse of power over others.
YES to power created together.
YES to being respectful or our own bodies and those of others. Period.