I got splattered with hate tweets after my last post on sexual harassment. The white hot venom that came my way something I had never seen before. As an executive coach, I was surprised to hear of four cases of sexual harrassment in two weeks which prompted me to write the post. However, readers' comments on the last post show that there is a blazing fire of sexual harassment burning in many workplaces.
"At work I was once accused, falsely, of harassment and exonerated but not until the woman had ruined my work life and then she retracted her allegation and killed herself a few months later...
I am very careful never, ever to be in a situation where I am alone around children and try to avoid being near children at all because of the threat of being accused by some unstable parent..."
Summer Reyes-Carullo took protecting herself into her own hands- quite literally:
"It pays to know how to protect yourself (self defense). it comes in handy when confronted with people who physically harass / abuse you. i got to punch someone... knocking the air out of him and he never bothered me ever again and no one ever tried anything nasty with me ever"
I must admit that I scratched my head about the 15.9% of those sexual harassment charges filed by men. Hdaryl01 put this statistic into perspective:
"My business employs 15-20 18-25 year old male tradespeople, and previously employed 1 55 year old female administrator. ALL complaints came from my young macho immature testosterone driven blue collar male employees who drive loud jacked up "Chevy" or "Ford" 4X4's pickups AGAINST the staid "professional" older female. Some were shocked when she inquired over lunch if they shaved or waxed their genitals like she does, or had "hidden" piercings.,,,Others, were really uncomfortable with her unsolicited graphic Monday morning depictions of her sexual exploits on the weekend. Etc."
"I learned many lessons throughout my career, especially attending office parties after work when I was nearly raped in my early 30's by a very drunk coworker. I did break the rule and reported that man, and guess who was fired? Me."
There was such heated discussion, that I asked two of the top experts on the topic of sexual harassment, Barry Halote, Ph.D., and Allan Gerson, Ph.D., to weigh in on the issue.
"It has been said that there are at least two sides to every story. This will try to cover both sides of the sexual harassment topic. In this case there is the management side, (M), and the employee side, (E). Let us look at three factors from both sides, communication, respect, and office culture/politics.
(M): Make clear the policy for the office regarding sexual harassment, and communicate it in a fashion that is easily understood. When in situations that might allow for a charge of harassment, be clear in what you have to say, not just in the words, but in tone, and in body language, which includes facial expression. Much can be made of the way in which something is said.
(E): If you think someone has said or done something that could be sexually harassing, tell that person straight out that you think what they have said or done is not okay with you. Let them explain. If that does no good, communicate this clearly to the next person up the chain of command from you. If the alleged perpetrator is that person, go to the next step up. Document what has happened, so the memory is fresh, and the information can be passed on without confusion.
(M): Carry yourself in a manner which builds respect. Bosses or managers who are martinets, or conversely are everyone's pal do not put themselves in a place to be regarded with respect. On the one hand the tyrant builds resentment, which can be turned into actual or false accusations. The pal may put themselves in a position where they get too chummy and may say or do something, even in jest that could be construed as harassing. Respect others' space, physical and psychological.
(E): Respect yourself and others will treat you with respect. It is too easy to slip into familiarity with co-workers or management that goes beyond office decorum. Sometimes, because of the office culture, it is too easy to try to be "one of the boys", especially for women who have traditionally been left out. This can open you to remarks and behaviors that can rapidly deteriorate into discomfort, and possibly harassment. If this does not prevent harassment, respect yourself enough to take it to someone in the company who can help.
(M): Know the culture and the politics of the company. This is not restricted to the formal rules, but to the informal as well. Learn from others what goes on in the office, what is okay with them, and what is not. Learn who is comfortable within the office culture, and who is not. It may be that a close knit group is okay with certain behaviors or verbalizations, while others may not be. Know when it is okay to make a particular statement, and to whom. Know the culture. In one situation a boss became afraid even to say to his secretary that she looked nice, or to compliment a particular garment. This is overkill. Be aware of whom you say it to, and how you say it, but don't let paranoia persevere
(E): Offices are like families. Different people come in and out of each other's realm in a fluid manner over the day. Some can be spoken to in ways that would not be okay with others. Make it clear who you are in the "family" and what is okay and what is not. Harking back to communication let it be known in a frank, but polite, and diplomatic way. Does the office culture/politics suit you? Can you change it? Can it be changed? These can be discussed, as in well functioning families."
How are these issues addressed in your workplace? What advice would you give to someone that is challenged with sexual harassment?
Eli Davidson is a nationally recognized motivational speaker and executive coach. Her book, "Funky to Fabulous: Surefire Success Stories for the Savvy, Sassy and Swamped", (Oak Grove Publishing) has won three national book awards. Eli is a reinvention catalyst, who can transform your professional and personal life from Funky to Fabulous with her ten, trademarked Turnaround Techniques that create rapid and remarkable results. Check out her blog at http://funkytofabulous.blogspot.com/