Harassment In The Workplace Is Not Just About Sex

04/19/2017 02:10 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2017
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A friend of mine works at a very big, very powerful, internationally known company. The fact that she’s an executive there, and earns well into six figures, should give you the impression she’s treated with respect and dignity by her co-workers. She is not. While she’s not been sexually harassed, she routinely shares stories about how her male colleagues berate and verbally harass her on a recurring basis ― to the point where she occasionally finds herself in the ladies room wiping the tears from her eyes, due to being yelled at in a shockingly unprofessional and abusive way by her male counterparts, all in full view of the office interns ― some female ― who try to look busy and pretend the abuse they’re witnessing is normal, and/or, part of the job.

Every time I tell her to do something about it, the answer is always the same; “These people are too powerful. I’ll never work in the industry again.

She also feels it’s part of her job to simply “take it” and try and be “one of the guys” in her male-dominated firm.

Another friend of mine is a human resources manager at a high-profile investment bank. I routinely hear her stories of complaints by female staff over abusive language, sexually charged innuendos, and the sad, simple fact of a workplace environment in which women are forced to overhear and endure their male colleagues bragging about their previous night’s conquests, their “evaluation” of the new interns/assistants as if they’re pieces of cattle, and the lack of concern showed by the company’s directors.

Isn’t it sad that, in 2017, no matter how high her position, a woman still can’t go to work each day and be assured a calm, tranquil work environment? Not to mention, equal treatment under the law? That’s primarily because, as we all know, the laws don’t exist in the back channels of corporate boardrooms. Not until a lone, courageous individual has the guts to come forward and go public with her story, as in the recent cases of Fox News’ Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly.

If you need proof of the double standard corporate America still proudly adheres to on a daily basis, completely unconcerned with public blowback/perception, simply look at the fact that Ailes, the former head of Fox News, was paid twice as much to leave, as was the woman who accused him of harassing her.

No jail time. No fines. Not even loss of a week’s pay. Not only does this guy get a gigantic golden parachute for being Scumbag of the Year, he gets double what his alleged victim got. And how many others were there over the years who’ve stayed silent and never came forward? Rest assured, odds are, Gretchen Carlson wasn’t the only one forced to endure Ailes slimy, appalling advances. I don’t know about you, but if I’m a woman and Jabba the Hut was busy drooling all over my TPS reports on a daily basis, I’d be shouting it from the rooftops and collecting samples of his saliva for proof. However, in reality, it’s not that simple.

These women fear for their lives, their livelihoods, for themselves, for their children, their reputations, etc. Not to mention, they’re living in a culture in which it’s perfectly OK for a man to say “Grab ‘em by the pussy” on national television, and still become president.

Harassment in the workplace is not about sex. The sad truth is, most men, no matter how powerful, are infants. Ask any psychologist. Actually, usually, the more powerful the man, the more fragile the ego. Especially on Wall Street. Especially in the White House. Most of us are teenage boys, still holding a grudge from the prom date who rejected us all those years ago and hell bent on taking it out on every attractive female we meet. Especially ones we hold power over. Sex is the best way to conquer. Short of that, harassment and the constant implication of sex, knowing there’s virtually nothing they can do about it, is a close second.

Take the decades-old case of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. A man who, no doubt, sexually harassed his subordinates as a right of privilege, and yet, sits on the Supreme Court as we speak. Truly disgusting.

Our corporate culture seems to look the other way, and even reward, when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. Only “fessing up” to the mistake when left no choice, due to public pressure. What does that say about us as a society? Is this the way we want to raise our kids? One where boys get to intimidate and threaten girls as a means of power, because they wouldn’t know character if it bit them on their johnsons?

For the time being, it seems the sad truth is, unless our male-dominated political system decides to come up with a few legal deterrents to harassment - something other than a $40 million bon voyage package would be a good start - and, unless women in the workplace form some kind of unspoken bond of solidarity and agree to stand by each other and not look the other way if they witness, or are told of, their co-workers’ being harassed by a colleague, this type of behavior will keep happening.

Til then, don’t expect a cure for what “Ailes” you.

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