Unless you’ve lived under a rock or on another planet for the last year or so, you understand the meaning and implications of the #MeToo hashtag, Or, you, at least, have seen the hashtag online or in some other medium.
The hashtag is a symbol of a worldwide movement against sexual harassment and assault. Its initiation has been attributed to actress Alyssa Milano. The impetus for the #MeToo movement was the allegation of serial sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein.
Since the first allegation against Weinstein became public, dozens of other public figures, notably within the entertainment business, have also been accused of sexual harassment and assault. It’s been a cascade of apparent #MeToo cultures revealed for all to see. The question, then, arises – how much of a problem is this? Is it widespread?
I’ve either worked in or consulted for hundreds of organizations of all shapes and sizes during a five-decade career in business and higher education. I can tell you from first-hand experience, that five decades ago, sexual harassment was a BIG problem. I started out as a laborer on the factory floor of the auto industry. With more education, I moved into engineering and, then, into finance.
With each move up, I expected cultures to improve. They didn’t. And, it went both ways. I’ve experienced female managers and executives who expected certain “favors” as part of their leadership style. Or, female colleagues who moved up in the organization by satisfying the requirements of their bosses, male and female. It was accepted as part of climbing the ladder of success.
Yes. I know you may think, in this day and age, these types of cultures don’t exist anymore. You would be incorrect. I can take you to organizations, with which I have recent first-hand experience, who deal with this problem every day. One, in particular, comes to mind.
This Fortune 500 firm had a large, well appointed, sales inbound and outbound call center, populated with high-end cubicles. The reps who worked in this call center were well educated and experienced, including many with MBAs. They were engaged in “consultive” selling of expensive products and services. This was not some “boiler room” operation.
One married male team member wanted to date a married female co-worker. After several unsuccessful advances, the male team member, started sexting his female colleague. When that was unsuccessful, he urinated on her chair as punishment. All of these actions were documented in writing. What do you think happened to the offending team member?
Nothing! Well, not nothing. He did receive his third written reprimand. I know you’re thinking, WOW, what outrageous conduct! Why was nothing done? The answer is – a legacy organizational culture that, at one time, condoned almost anything. Just a few years earlier, people were “hooking up” during breaks and lunches in their personal vehicles parked in the company parking lot.
So, does sexual harassment and assault occur in our contemporary organizations? Is it harassment and/or assault when it’s consensual? How do you tell? Is there confusion? How do you know? I’ll let you consider these questions until Part 2. I’ll leave you with a recent experience I had. You be the judge.
I arrived for a client meeting, passed a female colleague in the hallway on my way to the restroom. I like to give people compliments, especially when really deserved. I told her, “You look amazing today!” Her response, “You can’t say that to me!” Was that a case of sexual harassment? Please tune in for Part 2.