It is amazing how we have evolved so much and remain so archaic in our behavior. In 2017 we still have people (mostly men) who think it is OK to violate personal space. Both in and out of the workplace alike, people are subjected to glares, words and physical contact that just doesn’t have to happen. It is a choice, a conscious choice, made by a person, to intentionally disturb another person. I apologize, I have no idea why people do this, and I will never understand why anyone would think that it’s OK, but I do know that not everyone does it, so it isn’t “normal” human behavior at all. I have discussed this topic at length recently with quite a few people both men and women, and I have to say the women I spoke to for the most part are exhausted by this epidemic. As a man, it was very disheartening to hear the stories of the abuse that most men only seem to care about when it involves the women in their lives. I don’t know how to solves this dilemma, but I do have some ideas about where we can start to change this behavior in the workplace.
When you interview for a position when it is your turn to ask questions take that opportunity to ask about the culture and include a question about the sexual harassment policy. Ask them if they feel safe, even ask them to assign a letter grade to their environment. Read their body language when they respond. If they appear unusually uncomfortable or try to give you a really short answer and ask if you have any additional questions, take that as a red flag. Do the same thing if you interview with Human Resources since that is in their wheelhouse, and they would be aware of that kind of reported behavior on a company-wide scale. The import thing is to get as much information about the company as you can while you are in the decision-making process should they offer you a position.
During your orientation, there should be some sort of harassment training as a part of the on-board process. If it’s a group discussion make sure you ask questions about how often these are reported. Who the best person to report an incident if you don’t feel comfortable telling your manager or if it is your manager, do you need documentation, do you need witnesses, etc.. Make sure you are crystal clear on all of the policies and procedures as it pertains to sexual harassment in your workplace. If your company does this via instructional video make sure you ask HR any questions you may have after viewing. What is considered harassing behavior? How much behavior do you have to endure before you report it? What can you do to ensure there is no retaliation if you report someone? Once you have a solid understanding, you are better equipped to handle the situation should you be unfortunate enough to fall into one.
I am a firm believer that adults are free to choose whatever they want to wear to work as long as it falls within the company guidelines for dress code. I am also a firm believer that there are 9,429 different definitions of the term “business casual” and that is for each company to define and enforce. All that being said, there is nothing you can wear that gives another person the right to harass you sexually. That is a behavior of choice, and if a person is going to do it, I’m guessing it has nothing to do with what you are wearing. When you spend 8-9 hours a day with the same group of people, over time professional relationships can turn into friendships and then personal relationships. That is just the nature of the workplace, and most companies have rules around how personal relationships can be formed in the workplace. There can be a slightly grey area when one person wants a relationship to move past professional, and they believe the other person wants the same thing, so they take their shot. Hopefully, if the other person doesn’t want the same thing the situation can be resolved no harm no foul. Once someone says “no” to something that has nothing to do with work, that has to be accepted. Trying to change someone’s mind is harassment, plain and simple. Taking your shot is always a risk, especially in the workplace, but if you miss the game is over. Do yourself and the other person a favor and move on with your life.
Leaders. Stop it with your direct reports. Just stop it. Nothing buries a leader quicker than one trying to foster a personal relationship with a direct report. Even if your direct report has similar feelings for you don’t do it. Plus, it should be somewhere in your company guidelines. You have the most important role in all of this, so you need to make sure all appropriate boundaries are in place.
Leaders. CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR IS UNACCEPTABLE!!! We owe the people who work for us a safe workplace. It is a very important part of the job, and we are clearly dropping the ball. Every employee should feel comfortable bringing this kind of behavior to our attention, and every single incident should be taken seriously and addressed accordingly. No one should have to go to work and suffer in silence. This culture of victim blaming & shaming has to stop immediately. How can we possibly be taken seriously if we are not accountable for the environment we are charged with leading? Employee morale is down nationwide, and only 37% of employees trust their manager, that should be enough of a wake-up call. What is currently happening in Hollywood hopefully will find its way into every other work environment, and you don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of this behavior as a leader. There are parts of every job that we don’t like doing, this cannot be one of them.
If you find yourself being harassed in the workplace, please report it. Document what happened with all the information you can: date/time/who did it/who was there/what was done/how you responded and keep a copy for your records. When you report it ask for clarity on the process and what you should expect as resolution if it’s not offered. Try to remain as professional as possible when it happens and while your incident is being investigated and processed. If you can avoid engaging with the other person do so as much as you can. Even if you feel like nothing will change – report it. If you feel like you are being victim blamed or shamed – document the incident in its entirety (harassment and the resolution) and then start looking for another place to work. If you work for a company that doesn’t take this kind of thing seriously enough, it’s best not to waste any more time working there. In the meantime, you can file a complaint with theEqual Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC), and they will take you through their process of filing a claim. If you are a federal employee, the process is different, but that information is on the website as well. The important thing is to report the incident and remain professional while you are still working at your job and try to find a better place to work. You deserve better!
It is unfortunate that we have not yet evolved past this behavior as a species. We can do so much better if we want to but it starts with us. When we see bad behavior of any kind make sure we let people know that it is not acceptable. Don’t participate in behavior at work that you know is wrong and don’t turn your head when you see it happen in front of you. Every company is charged with providing a safe workplace for its employees and have rules and paid leaders to facilitate the workplace environment. With your help and participation, everyone can go to work and focus on the actual work without worrying about any of the extracurricular.