In the 1980s I attended the farewell of a colleague from RNZ. After we’d all had a few beers she shared the story of a ‘certain manager’ who offered her a lift home saying ‘it would be good for her career’. Another women – also a former employee – said ‘Oh my God, he did the same thing to me’. They both talked about the impact this had on them, and for me it was the first time I’d heard directly the effects of sexual harassment.
By their own account they did nothing about it because of fear of losing their job, status, or just not being believed.
In a recent Facebook post another former colleague and her friends also shared stories of (mostly) managers’ inappropriate behaviour in the NZ media industry.
The international media has been full of stories like this since it was revealed that Harvey Weinstein had been sexually harassing woman for decades. This has been followed by a spate of similar stories about high-profile men, from all professions. Presidents, politicians, comedians, film directors, photographers. I could go on.
That women have been emboldened to speak out is a positive thing, but why only now? Anyone who’s been subjected to inappropriate behaviour should have the freedom to complain about it at any time, and for action to be taken.
A couple of weeks ago, after hearing another story that is unlikely to see the light of day, I tweeted:
I look forward to the day when women from all walks of life – not just those with a public profile – can speak up about sexual abuse, bullying, gas-lighting, and lewd jokes – and action is taken. I also look forward to the day men don’t do this shit.
But earlier this week I read in the Washington Post an opinion that suggested nothing will change.
Famous and powerful men will continue to fall from high positions. And for the vast majority of women, nothing will change.
The Post did give women from 16 industries the chance to give their views on what does need to change.
Minnie Driver recently told the Guardian that men “simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level” and should not therefore attempt to differentiate or explain sexual misconduct against women.
OK, so we know what not to do, but what can we do? What can men do?
An answer I’ve heard is, I don’t do that stuff, I don’t see that stuff, there is nothing I can do. But it’s a cop-out.
It’s a cop-out because there are lots of other behaviours that don’t make the news, behaviours that create a distasteful and disrespectful culture. We men have been immersed in this culture our whole lives; like air, we almost never notice it.
It’s easy to decry the reports stemming from what some are calling The Reckoning. It is much harder to deal with the systemic issues, issues that most of us cannot see.
But see we must, and in order to do this, we need a reset. A fresh start, so that we can recognise in ourselves, and others, the behaviour that needs to stop.
Starting points on this journey are creepy behaviour, gas-lighting and bullying.
Once you are aware, get out of the habit of doing these things. Stop behaving in this way, or supporting that behaviour in others. And by support, I mean ignoring it.
If you are a manager, make it clear to your team that this behaviour won’t be tolerated, and demonstrate this through you actions.
What if you witness, or are subjected to any of the behaviours I’ve outlined above?
If you see behaviour that is inappropriate, and you are confident to do so, call it out, or report it.
This is the hard part, because some of the behaviours I’ve described above, such as gas-lighting, are designed to make it almost impossible to complain. You were left out of a meeting? It was a simple mistake. You didn’t get the email? It must’ve been a fault with the email system. And so on. It’s nasty stuff, because complaining about incidents like these in isolation makes it appear you are overly sensitive, but collectively over a period of time, they would be classified as bullying.
My recommendation (for men and women) is to document behaviour in the workplace that concerns you. Note the date, time, specifics of the behaviour, and who was present. Get advice from someone you trust in regard to making a complaint. It pains me to say it, but in some cases you may need to show (through documentation) a pattern of behaviour before making a complaint.
When the time comes to complain, make sure your company has a process, and that it is followed strictly. If you have concerns or don’t feel safe, talk to an employment lawyer. There are several avenues available if you are forced to pursue the matter independently.
If a group of you experience bad behaviour, agree to independently document what happens and complain. It is very hard to complain as a group – you may be accused of collusion. Again, get legal advice.
Lastly, beware of the signs of minimisation – being asked to ‘be the better person’, of someone saying it was only a joke, a ‘one-off’, when you know it is not. At best this shows ignorance, at worst complicity. In those case, there is a much bigger problem, and your employment lawyer should be the first step.
I wrote this post after hearing how friends and acquaintances have struggled to deal with the short- and long-term impact of some of the behaviours I’ve outlined. I hope it’ll help someone make a change in their life, or encourage others to speak out.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
P.S. You’ll notice that I’ve never said go and speak to HR. While the human resources department are usually in charge of maintaining the policies and processes that cover harassment in the workplace, they work for the company. The policies are there because of the law. HR is there to make sure they are followed for the protection of the company first. I favour getting independent, external, impartial advice in the first instance.