A few things to know about Sexual Harassment
I got into a fairly lengthy discussion with a 30+-year-old male friend yesterday. It started because of learning that Matt Lauer (Today Show anchor) was fired for “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace”.
I appreciated his candor as he acknowledged that he really didn’t know what any of this meant as he personally had never witnessed what he thought was sexual harassment. Like many people, he was left wondering if some woman was making it up or “mis-reading” an interaction with a co-worker.
This issue is very real and you don’t have to go too far to find a woman who hasn’t had to put up with it at least once in their life. I have had numerous “events” of this nature throughout my career so I know it’s very real. Most of them were repulsive but one was bad enough I’ve barely ever told anyone. This behavior also occurs with men but less frequently.
First, I would like to say that I do know that there are people who have made up false accusations and are poor at reading social interactions. I’m sure that some of what you’ve heard includes some of those people. But like every social problem we have, you can’t disregard the problem because a few people have made false claims.
It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
This is also the type of thing that is hard to prove and as a result, most people don’t do or say anything. Keep in mind that when this sort of thing happens with a boss or a person of power (think Bill Cosby or Matt Lauer) the recipient of the harassment often feels powerless to push back verbally much less ask for an intervention by a company or authorities for fear of the repercussions. It’s the perfect crime if you think about it because the bad behavior essentially gets reinforced due to lack of punishment or accountability. Getting by with bad behavior signals success, which for a person of power can be a heady experience. No wonder you hear of people inflicting years of abuse.
Why am I discussing this? Because my mission is to do everything I can to help you love the work you do. This is the sort of thing that can cause you to hate your job, lose your personal power and reroute your life. Don’t inflict this on others and don’t accept it.
If you are the recipient of sexual harassment, minimally you should speak up and let the offender know that it’s not ok to do or say the things they are doing. We teach people how to treat us and if you don’t stand up for yourself you are reinforcing bad behavior, which means it will persist. There are full-blown classes on this so I won’t get into a full course of action but my main message is to think through what would you do if it happened to you.
Respect others and respect yourself.
Brought to you by Dorothy Tannahill-Moran – dedicated to unleashing your professional potential. Introvert Whisperer