Food For Thought: Dealing With Sexual Harassment

chick9qQKPProbably to the person doing it, being accused of sexual harassment shouldn’t be a shock. You know what you know. Usually, as in the case of Roger Ailes, soon to be formerly of Fox News, it’s a man doing the harassing. As Gretchen Carlson’s accusations have not been adjudicated, Ailes is an ‘alleged’ perpetrator. The same thing applies to Bill Cosby. Nothing has been proven, though an allegation of sexual assault is processing through the criminal courts. Presumption of innocence should prevail.

There is a legal definition, and thus a threshold of conduct that falls within the definition of sexual harassment. It’s supposedly ironclad, but I contend an accusation can be often off based. There is such a thing as a misunderstanding. I’m not talking about the quid quo pro, “Hey, sugar, you’re working for me. Play with me and have a drink, sister and you’ll go far,” I had a short stint as a writer for a production company way back when. I met a woman executive that said that to me. She tossed in the cartoonish skin-crawling protruding eyeballs as her hand traveled somewhere between my lap and knee. Those types of things are easy to call, as it in the case of a woman being hit on by a supervisor or co-worker. My point is that it shouldn’t happen – no one should feel uncomfortable doing his or her job.

Those types of things are easy to call, as it in the case of a woman being hit on by a supervisor or co-worker. My point is that it shouldn’t happen – no one should feel uncomfortable doing his or her job.

I remember interviewing a young woman who, initially came across as being all business. She didn’t stay that way. She repositioned her chair to sit directly in front of me – slapping a hand on my knee and a display of cleavage came next. I was stunned, but more so by the overture she floated at me. I had no real interest and politely refused. Why? Quite honestly, it could have been a setup. I’m also married to the woman of my dreams. Besides, that’s not how I conduct myself in the workplace.

After that incident, I had my female assistant manager, conduct interviews with me, or, altogether, take the lead with women. Our agency has always been small with many lineup changes, but the culture is interesting. It’s always been my belief in providing a safe, comfortable environment. My colleague and I thought it essential to nip issues early on because, even off premises, men and women exhibited a lot of locker-room bawdiness and language. It usually spills over to the workplace. We felt the being proactive with written policies, and role playing were the best ways to deal with this issue.

Here’s a cliché’ “Appreciate women for their character and ability to do the job…” That’s really true, but also pabulum because it’s just a set of words that sound right. There are a number of people who want sexual neutrality and gender equality in the workplace. Just like the mythical “color-blind” society they claim they live in, its bull. It is a given that men and women doing the same job should be paid the same. That’s just common sense, not arguable. However, ‘sexual neutrality’ is a notion that goes against the male and female dynamic. Put men and women together and there will be tension.

As a man, I appreciate women for their gifts – intellectual and esthetic. I will pay attention, open doors and show deference because I am a man. No apologies. The unfortunate thing is that some men turn a gaze into a leer. That’s when the illusion that a quiet friendly smile, manner of dress, and professionalism is an invitation to make a woman feel devalued. In all ways holy, that’s just plain wrong. It’s also equally wrong to assume there is a demand behind, “Hello how was your day?” or, “Nice outfit. You wear it well.”

If the latter happens, remember you’re not under attack. It is called a ‘compliment.’

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