Sexual Misconduct in the 2018 Workplace

7 Tips for Men in the Workplace After Roger, Matt, Charlie, Bill 1, Harvey, Bill 2, Kevin & #METOO*

 

For men who champion women’s rights in the workplace, 2018 has been a difficult year. We saw sexist or misogynistic behavior and did nothing. We looked away, laughed or smiled or went along to get along. The continuing parade of sexual abusers makes us feel guilty that we could or should have done more. We’re even fearful that our own past behavior included conduct that was “risqué”. 

It’s “Times Up!” on bad behavior. Silence is a sin we can’t justify. Before the Civil War, Northern clothing manufacturers knew slavery was indefensible. But they profited from cheap Southern slave labor cotton. They turned a blind eye because it fueled their business. 

Men know workplace sexism and misogyny is indefensible. But men have long enjoyed the benefits of male privilege in a workplace. We turn a blind eye to bad behavior because it works for us. 

So what’s our path forward? We live and work in a culture that still treats women as sex objects. A television commercial features a woman in a bikini selling home mortgages. Beauty pageants feature swimsuit competitions. And let’s not forget our iconic Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and Laker Girls. 

So how can we oppose workplace behavior that demeans or discriminates against women? Standing up is a daily exercise. A one-size-fits-all “do’s and don’ts” list is impossible, but here are some pointers:

  1. Silence is not golden. Silence suggests agreement with sexist comments or behavior, or even encouragement. When you witness bad behavior, speak up. Be a leader, not a follower. If you can’t speak up…
  2. Walk away. Speaking up when the perpetrator is your superior could be a career-defining moment. Instead, excuse yourself to signal your displeasure. 
  3. Use the company hotline. Report bad behavior. Many companies allow anonymous reporting of bad behavior. Others use an independent third party to manage and investigate complaints.
  4. Check yourself. We all have biases. We grew up in a sexist culture that sighs and accepts "boys will be boys." In the workplace we hear and see bad behavior, but go along to get along. Or even willingly join in. Imagine the subject or recipient of that bad behavior was your wife, sister or daughter. Would you react the same way?
  5. Do not stare or touch. The modern workplace has blurred borders between business and social activities. Breakfast and dinner meetings, offsite retreats and team-building activities are de rigueur. Mild flirting is not unusual, and personal relationships can develop without much encouragement. But knowing where or when to draw the line can be difficult. A rule of thumb: in the workplace, do not touch any woman you find attractive without permission. What you may think is innocent behavior may be offensive and unwelcome.
  6. You, your co-workers and the Company share one reputation. Contemporary “Branding” means linking a corporation's name with successful advertising. Consumers hear or see the company’s name and associate it with positive experiences. Or negative ones. Good or bad, you, the company and your co-workers share one reputation, one Brand. Their Brand is your Brand. Damage to one is damage to all. Always advance that Brand in a positive direction.
  7. Listen to your Judgment Bell. We all have a Judgment Bell. It's that social filter that stops you from doing or saying something you will later regret. And your Judgment Bell works or you’d likely not be working right now. If you’re tempted to do or say something that seems funny or clever, but also risqué, listen to your Judgment Bell. If it starts ringing like Big Ben, stop and listen. It’s not worth risking your career, or reputation, or even your freedom. Ask Roger, Matt, Charlie, Bill 1, Harvey, Bill 2, or Kevin.
     

*#MeToo is an international movement against sexual harassment and assault. Roger Ailes, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Kevin Spacey are celebrities recently accused of workplace sexual harassment or assault.