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Monday, April 8, 2019

What Constitutes #MeToo?

So it's finally a movement. This post is overdue because the movement is already a couple of years old. It's both encouraging and disheartening to see that new examples are coming out every day that may or may not apply. I'm not going to get into any specific examples here.

If you've read through my posts (or even just read the description of this blog), it's a documented history of boys (grown men) behaving badly. It is easy to understand why so many women never came forward. For what? To be further harassed, watch the abuser see no consequences (unless it was a promotion), and possibly be fired?

Are women making too much of this? I don't think so. Events can range from real-live sexual harassment (sleep with me if you want that promotion) to simply annoying (he's not your superior and can't threaten you professionally, but is aggressively making unwanted advances). Either way, in the past, if you didn't just laugh it off, you were a bitch with no sense of humor. Today, women may have some real remedies at our disposal.

Full disclosure, I never once felt legitimately "harassed". No male superior or client ever suggested that I must perform certain acts to be promoted or get an order. That doesn't mean that they always behaved appropriately. A couple of them needed to be slapped or publicly embarrassed but it would not have been fair for them to lose their jobs. (I would have been happy with a well-placed kick to the noogies, but that was frowned upon at the time.)

Although its usually a male weapon of choice, true sexual harassment is not about sex at all - it's about power. And, as more women rise in company ranks (please, God), the reverse is possible, it's just not likely. To make a sweeping generalization, women are more focused on getting the work done than the politics, and sex is probably not the weapon they would choose (more on women's favorite weapons another day).

What is the line between inappropriate behavior and career-ending harassment?

I'm not hearing a lot of clarity in the news about what constitutes harassment and what is merely (tongue-in-cheek) inappropriate. Men are understandably frightened right now. Does changing the culture mean they can't comment on your new haircut? Worry about how it will be perceived if they compliment you on your work? Can't ask someone out if they are interested in the person and perceive mutual interest? (Given the time that Americans spend working, that could quickly mean the end of our civilization.)

Let's hope that common sense prevails. People: no means no. That could mean, "no, I don't want to go out with you",  "no I don't even want to flirt with you", "no, I'm not interested AT ALL". As long as "no" is taken for an answer, there shouldn't be any issue, and there shouldn't be any negative consequences for asking the question (again, provided it isn't breaking any company rules). The business world is full of Alphas who sometimes perceive "no" in the same light as a sales objection, which means they just haven't pled their case well enough yet. Women need to communicate clearly and assertively, and men need to understand that no really does mean no. But when she has said "no" and he persists, women can't be afraid to take action. The attention around #metoo should provide some comfort that they are not alone.

The risk is that the pendulum swings too far the other way. What we DON'T want is men too scared to mentor promising women employees or include them in meetings or travel when its required because they're afraid the relationship will be perceived as something other than professional. Making this more common and acceptable is hopefully part of this culture change.

What I envision for this and the next generation of working women (which includes nieces and the women in my son's lives), is a workplace where, when a woman is offered a promotion or is asked to accompany her male boss to a meeting or on a trip, it doesn't even occur to her to question his motives. It's all assumed to be professional because that's all she will ever have experienced.

Let's all take a breath and get some perspective. Support our sisters who have suffered real harassment, change our company policies so that offenders suffer significant consequences and victims are not punished, and then focus on the work. Workplace culture will change as company leaders describe and demonstrate what a respectful working environment looks like. Spoiler alert: it will not include fear or the necessity to walk on eggshells.

If all else fails, try a well-placed spike heel to the noogies.

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