You think THAT’S How Harassment Works?
I got just a bit worked up.
I had to take a break, refill my coffee, take a short stroll, have some chocolate and then read it again. Nope; still worked up. Perhaps a more accurate description is that I experienced a wee bit of sadness and a massive tsunami of annoyance.
Now one thing I always appreciate about Derek is how he injects his personal experiences into his writing; I’ve read some pretty powerful posts from him over the years. But this? Like eavesdropping on a reunion of frat-bros, complete with chilled beers and way too much Drakkar Noir. A safe haven of shared camaraderie where they could scratch themselves unabashedly and lapse into stories about uppity women.
In the post, Derek shares the story of his friend (I shall call him Joe) who works in human resources. One day Joe was having a work meeting with a female colleague (Sherrie) who was experiencing some stressful situations at work. In an attempt to cheer her up and make her feel good about herself Joe told her “Hey Lady! You look lovely today!”
The next day, Joe’s manager (presumably also in HR) requested a meeting and, as Joe entered the room, he found his manager sitting alongside Sherrie. Joe was shocked to hear that he was being “accused” of, as he characterized it, both sexual harassment and “misogyny.” (definition of misogyny: dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women).
The manager told Joe “Sherrie said that you said … ‘hey BABY, you look lovely today, and she was quite taken back.’”
Joe got flustered, stammered out some answers, but also decided that no matter what he said he wouldn’t be believed because…” now ALL men are labeled, everyone is angry now, and if you are not there is something wrong with you. There was no formal complaint put forward, and in fact, the woman who brought it up was uninterested in even filing a formal complaint towards him, yet other women felt that a verbal lashing was needed and he was put to the whip. The female manager thought that it was necessary to voice something although there was no precedent since there was no formal complaint made, just some hearsay and the need to have to feel angry all the time and demand re-education.
See why I got riled up when reading this?
Joe works in HR. My guess is he’s not a very capable human resource professional though so I’m going to break it down for him and give him a few general guidelines to which most human resources professionals ascribe:
- The employer gets notification of a workplace conduct issue; this could be an employee discussing with a manager, the filing of a formal complaint with HR, an employee placing a call to a 3rd party/hotline, or something that just happened to be overheard at the water cooler. The issue could be unlawful discrimination, harassment or perhaps a violation of company policies, rules or standards of conduct. The issue, in fact, could be as pedestrian as “Bob and I just don’t get along because Bob is an asshole when he does X, Y, and Z.”
- IMPORTANT NOTE: there does not need to be a “formal complaint” (which Joe didn’t seem to understand) in order to investigate a workplace conduct issue.
- Most companies, with the task being spearheaded by a member of the HR team, will investigate complaints about employee behavior and/or potential misconduct. An HR practitioner, trained to be fair and objective, will start with some fact-finding; this may include gathering evidence and information and, yes, TALKING TO PEOPLE.
- The purpose of the investigation, put very simply, is to determine (a) did the conduct that was alleged actually occur? and (b) if it DID occur, what is the impact and significance?
So no matter how, when or why Sherrie brought up the issue that she was taken aback (uncomfortable?) with what Joe said, her employer had an obligation to look into it. The boss lady (I’ll call her Pam because it’s the perfect HR name) was not only protecting her company (i.e. failure to investigate or address such a matter could have led to bigger issues) but was also ensuring that Sherrie – an employee! – felt her concerns were addressed. An employee mentioned conduct that may be creating an intimidating, offensive or hostile work environment? Of course, Pam needed to investigate.
Note that Pam did not tell Joe he was accused of harassment nor did she tell him he was a misogynist. We’re not quite sure what precisely happened to wrap up the meeting but my assumption, based on the rest of the story, is that Joe was neither disciplined nor was there any other sort of adverse employment action.
You know what Joe needed to do? Something that was apparently beneath his common HUMAN courtesy to do? Joe needed to say….”Sherrie, although I don’t recall making that comment in exactly the way you remember it, I do apologize if I caused you some discomfort. Please be assured it will never happen again but, if it does, feel free to let me know right away.”
I wonder if he did?
In April of this year, Pew Research Center released a poll (US) and 51% of the respondents said that recent developments have made it harder for men to know how to interact with women in the workplace. According to a survey commissioned by the Lean In initiative, the number of male managers who are uncomfortable mentoring women has more than tripled (from 5% to 16%) since the #MeToo movement first started back in October 2017.
Men are scared that what they say will get them in trouble in the workplace? Too bad. Women have been scared for decades (centuries!) that what they said or did in the workplace could result in demotions, lack of opportunities or being stereotyped as everything from the “office mother” to the “office slut.” Women have been groped, grabbed, degraded, assaulted and even raped in their workplaces. Yet, as highlighted in this NPR survey, “while men experience sexual harassment as well, the prevalence is higher for women, as is the intensity of those experiences.”
But our protagonist Joe, poor Joe, was so bereft that a female co-worker deigned to mention that she was made uncomfortable by a comment of his that he ended up leaving his company and finding another job. Poor Joe became “cold and distant.” Poor Joe’s soul was crushed and at “the thought of speaking to a woman, even a smile or kind word never came from his lips again, dying a slow death of humiliation all for the sins of others and the arrogance of those who did not want equality but superiority.”
Give me a freakin’ break.
It’s because of people like Joe that we have findings from the LeanIn Initiative’s survey that:
- Senior men are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior-level woman than with a junior-level man—and 5 times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior-level woman.
- Almost half of the male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together.
Thankfully though women, and the men who care, have finally had enough. We have a voice; a strong, collective, POWERFUL voice and we are never going to put that genie back in the bottle. We’re letting ourselves be heard and will no longer sit idly by and let the poor, wounded, men (like Joe) blame the evil, sneaky, shifty, wimmen-folk.
Is Joe still working in HR? I would guess he is. It does make me wonder though; does he interact with female candidates “alone?” What happens when he needs to talk to, counsel or advise a female employee? Can his crushed soul and wounded spirit handle doing his job?
As for Sherrie? I am PROUD she spoke her truth and let her voice be heard. #NeverForgetSherrie