What IS being done?
In Part 1 we looked at the cultural origins of harassment. In Part 2 we expanded on what actually happens. Now, in this concluding piece, we highlight what actions are needed to diminish the occurrence of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Let’s train everybody to be aware…
As a broad corporate response to the emerging crisis (Pandora’s box is now open), a wave of group Sexual Harassment Awareness Training Courses are being spashed over executives. And it is all coming in a rush. Centred on behavioural awareness and compliance (no, the other compliance) they have a very specific tone. Often with stern warnings and containing horrible scenarios, the message is one of shame and blame directed at the vile nature of some male behaviour.
But, this rapidly deployed and reactive intervention could prove to be counter-productive.
According to some research, there is a downside to this style of teaching approach. Short, high-pressure, punitive harassment awareness courses, that focus on blame and promise punishment, may actually be delaying the desired change in male behaviour in the workplace. A side effect of the powerful content contained in these courses is construed as a general accusation making all men automatically wrong and covering all male executives with a blanket of condemnation. This, in turn, can contribute negatively to the goal, hindering some men to acknowledge the potential for danger. The confrontational nature of the material shifts them from free dialogue into a defensive and avoidant position, where some begin to justify their actions or chose instead to hide in deep denial.
When a corporate sheep-dip course is rolled out rapidly as a reactive tactic by male management, probably in response to a sexual harassment incident within the company, possibly involving one of their own, an instant cure is not always forthcoming.
Unwanted side effects include seeing men taking refuge in polarity, the strengthening of male in-groups for mutual protection and a general disengagement from the subject, and, thus making resolution less likely to occur. When this approach is taken, especially in competitive and sales driven organisations, where the male hero stereotype has been promoted for years as the company ideal, the company finds that their promoted culture of, “hunt like a predator” cannot be switched off so easily or so quickly.
Maybe you can’t sheep dip a wolf.
So, compliance courses, rushed out to all employees in order to kill off the incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace are not proving a panacea.
Maybe we need to go deeper in our study of the abuse of power by men and look to see how women get caught up in this dynamic.
For women, the current rebalancing of #metoo and #timesup is creating a safe space, beyond shame and silence, for those at the receiving end of abuse, sexual harassment and discrimination. This movement has peer support, allowing the sharing of stories with less judgement and is, at last, letting light shine in upon decades of secrecy, silence and fearful darkness.
It has taken action by women for women bypassing the boardroom, to get proportionate airtime, begin the debate and change the ground rules for both men and women in the workplace.
Will the repeated and amplified myth of man as a dominant, experienced, decisive, macho, courageous and an all-conquering hero, morph into something safer, more savoury and more appropriate for today’s business world?
Or, will the bastions of male power lash out, take revenge and reclaim their territory?
If the #metoo door is shut again, we can expect a panoply of abuse, a continuance of harassment in the absence of consequences for men and justice for women wronged at work, and, a strengthening of the ultra-male script – look out with dread for the return of the ravishing Viking.
Or, a better Hollywood script… Imagine the scene – On a wild and windy beach… there gather a critical mass of modern office workers, reborn and newly conscious – a promising new generation of aware workers committed to the creation of a healthier work dynamic that shows up in meritocratic reward whilst allowing for transparent flirting, healthy romance and witty in-group humour, and, killing off the exchange of job advantage for sexual favours.
And, when the #metoo wave peaks, then it will be time to advocate for a code of conduct that covers team buddy banter, in-house flirting, work romance and prescribes a moratorium on sexual trading, physical threat and the abuse of power in the work place.
Questions – Will we see a revoking of the free wheeling sex pest’s power pass in the workplace and the rise of self-policing and self-editing male work colleagues who are fluent in the modern work languages of respect, restraint and reasonable behaviour in the workplace?
Or, will the wave pass and the doors be locked again for another 20 years?
Only time will tell.
The new paradigm could be liberating for everybody.
About the Author – Susanne Schuler is an Intercultural Mediator at CEDR, The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in London.
Catch up on the Series so far…
Part 2 What Do We See?
Part 1 Where did it come from?