Sexual Harassment – What do we see?

At what level does sexual harassment begin, and – How far does it go?

A second opinion piece by Intercultural Mediator, Susanne Schuler

(Reminder: Part 1 was about Where did it come from? – Hierarchical power and vulnerability plus the Gender neutrality-equality v Beauty primium dilemma and the impact of bias.)

There are several versions of the sexual harassment escalation scale. This is perhaps an indictment of the enormity of the abuse that is occurring. Let us look at an aggregated ladder of possible encounters;

Homme charmeur

*Looking – intensely or leering

*Language – sexualized conversations in the workplace, one-to-one or male group vulgarity around or toward lone females

*Suggestion – crossing the flirting line with explicit requests, described activities or observations and judgments

*Physical moves – contact & proximity, escalating to physical intimidation and cornering

*Trade / exchange – in-work offers of favourable treatment in return for forms of sexual compliance or issuing a threat of negative consequences if compliance is not forthcoming

*Forced choice – aggravated demands for sexual engagement

*Forced sexual moves – forced physical violation

*Violence – the use of extreme non-consensual physical force upon women

It is a depressing list.

Q. Why can’t we all just get on with our work in the office?

A. The same social and educational forces that have shaped women’s roles and behaviours, make us vulnerable to exploitation. These forces have also conditioned a part of the male working population to believe that successfully taking advantage of a female work colleague is, somehow, a badge of honour, a rite of passage or, simply, a perk of the job.

E.g. The complex reality on the ground – an example – A job panel may unconsciously or consciously discriminate against a working mother’s application when hiring for the role of a travelling sales person. The panel members project their own feelings and prejudice onto the selection process accordingly.

Their fixed image of a good mother may include not being sexually available, staying at home with her children and not being exposed to the negative encounters that accompany holding down a job travelling around the UK.

What has just happened?

Arising from a collective male knowledge of the threat of harassment, they pre-emptively exclude her from consideration, knowing the harassment that comes with a woman eating alone in restaurants, staying at service station hotels and meeting customers in their offices as well as socialising with them as part of relationship building.

They are projecting dangers arising from their own fear, shared knowledge and experience. With the best of intentions (the most dangerous phrase in the English language), they are reluctant to expose a female worker, wishing to undertake a travelling role, to the abuse and harassment that they know / fear she will inevitably encounter.

Debrief

We can see in this real scenario, the two sides of the gender dilemma coming into play – First gender neutrality, the female candidate may be the best applicant for the role, and, if put through the gender blind process we saw with the US orchestra, she would indeed get the job based on merit. In this version, if she has applied for the role, her life choices would not be questioned and her treatment would be even-handed regarding gender.

Secondly, the female attributes as currency perspective becomes awkward, twice. Firstly, does her beauty play a part in driving up her commercial selling potential, making her a more successful closer and so a strong candidate for this targets-based role?

And,

Sticking with this path, will her attributes expose her to better working conditions – special treatment, lower barriers etc. or, worse ones in the professional space? And, in the public arena? The panel anticipate pestering in public places, customer assumptions about her values and mores etc., leading to an increased chance of sexual harassment occurring in the execution of her job and the pursuit of her career? The feminine attribute of motherhood is considered in a vacuum, and, the fact that her partner may be an excellent stay-at-home carer is not factored in. The net total of all these concerns count against her as the panel consider her application.

As we can see – life is complicated. We have bias, diversity and inclusion guidelines, pragmatism and a skewed view, both positive and negative, as we stack up all the elements of bias coming into play.

E.g. The abuse of power – Let us consider a second example. The Harvey Weinstein story combines the feminine attributes as currency model with an extreme power dynamic to produce perfect storm conditions, all leading to a repeated pattern of abuse. The scenarios, outlined by vast swathes of women, have a number of common elements. We hear the repeated theme of motivated young women being lured into the wrong place, with the wrong man at the wrong time, at the beginning of their careers. They had little or nothing by way of clout, a supportive network around them or equity to fall back on. Now, add in wild promises designed to resonate with the driven ambitions of these young actors – just one last hurdle to jump lies between the impoverished ingénue and an irresistible film role and the opportunity for fame, fortune and success. Thus, the scene is set for a two-stage trading decision to be made. The first comes with the casting-couch – trading sexual compliance for career advantage, inclusion and a chance to make substantial progress as an actor. And, depending on the outcome of the first trade, a second horrific escalated choice, sexual compliance for survival and the chance to leave that hotel room… at all.

This complex topic is trending at the moment. What will come out of this heightened level of awareness and attention both for men, for whom it was a deeply buried dirty secret, and, for women who have the chance to share their stories, stake their claim and design a better workplace for everybody?

End of Part 2.

Next Time – Part 3 – What is being done? And, What can be done?

Part 1: Where did it come from?

Part 3: What is being done? and What can be done?

About the author, Susanne Schuler is an Intercultural Mediator working at the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in London. She has written the book Intercultural Mediation  At Work, published by Bookboon. To buy the book click on the link;

https://bookboon.com/en/intercultural-mediation-at-work-ebook

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Sexual Harassment – Where did that come from? An opinion piece by Susanne Schuler Part 1

A Powerful Dilemma

After the sexual harassment incidents coming out of Hollywood, The British BBC, Oxfam and other overseas aid charities, as well as British Parliament, is it time to take a closer look at sexual harassment looking through the lenses of culture and bias?

Sexual Harassment Susanne Schuler

One perspective over the last 40 years has been to see the complexity of gender inclusion in the workplace as a dilemma i.e. Gender neutrality v A currency of feminine traits and attributes.

And, hovering above this dilemma, we can there is an overbearing and constant factor – Hierarchical POWER, acting as a contributing force and colouring the majority of incidents that we are now seeing come to the surface.

Let’s take a look at the component parts of the Gender inclusion dilemma?

Does our history as women of being given lesser roles and, often, having a male boss as the recruiter, decider or allocator of tasks, make a difference, and, what can we expect in the work place?

Dilemma Side One – Gender neutrality – This progressive movement aims to update the workplace from being historically divided, between breadwinning men and factory working / menial working / care working women, to a modern, gender neutral meritocracy.

The new paradigm aims will recognise talent and ability and be blind to gender (and class, privilege, sexual orientation, physical ability, beauty, colour etc. by extension.)

Let us start with a now famous example started with large US orchestras in the 1980’s. Analysis of the top orchestras revealed that less than 5% of the players were female. What was going on?

Was bias present in the auditioning process, preventing women being selected?

In a pragmatic change in the design of the audition space, players were asked to perform behind a screen so judges had to focus purely on their playing before making the hire / pass decision. This alone changed the game and produced a vast improvement in the offering of orchestra positions to female musicians. An interesting extra facet of unconscious bias was uncovered during these trials. The sound of women’s and man’s shoes and their walk as they took up their places to play behind the screen gave something away. Was the sound of their step keeping the recruitment process from becoming optimally meritocratic? With this in mind, some auditions were tweaked with the applicants being asked to remove their shoes before taking up their position to play behind the screen. And so, US orchestras changed their gender balance fundamentally over the following decade.

Bias – Where did it start?

The facts of implicit association have been put beyond doubt by swathes of research proving that more than 70% of us hold a negative association between being female and fulfilling the tasks required for some specific work roles. You may test yourself now – The normal trigger role (reacted to by both male and female subjects) used to illustrate this is…. That of having a female pilot when you are a passenger.

Way back when

2,500 years ago Greek medicine ascribed people’s behaviour and character to the homours in their bodies. A larger quantity of blood, yellow bile, black bile or phlegm would make them sanguine, melancholic, choleric or phlegmatic.

In a similar Greek vein, the uterus or hystera was seen as producing, in women, hysterical symptoms and behaviours – anxiety, irritability or sexually forward behaviour.

Fast-forward 2000+ years. Sigmund Freud moved hysteria out of the uterus. He posited that it was being caused, instead, by emotional trauma and both sexes being prone to this condition (Note; the majority of his subjects were female.)

And now, in the modern workplace – Bias is seen in the design of work, the allocation of roles to gender, and, an the design of a specific economic levels of employment intended for either male and female workers.

I was working with a senior European expat recently who had vast HR responsibilities in Russia. He talked of overseeing 10’s of factories full of women. I challenged him and asked why the majority of jobs were carried out by female staff. His reply was shockingly honest. The factories were set up to use cheap labour meaning that one job and salary could not support a family. THEREFORE only women applied!

Roles haven’t moved that far in the last 100 years – The breadwinner is thought of as the soldier action hero, the protector; a muscular and sensible figure that can be relied upon. Many “fill in” female targeted jobs are designed to top up income and are deliberately built to be lesser in status, excitement and financial reward.

The gender divide in roles has been pretty much constant over the last 150 years with the exception of the First and Second World Wars, when women were asked to fulfil a much more expansive brief in all areas of industry, government and community whilst the men were away at the front.

Power and vulnerability – Capping economic levels, decision making power and designing a workplace where men are in charge has creating deliberate financial dependence for women on their breadwinner husbands and workplace bosses in an ecosystem that, on reflection, seemed ripe and ready for sexual exploitation.

Dilemma Side Two – The currency of feminine attributes and traits – There exists a parallel employment universe and marketplace, where the perceived attributes of women attract a particular and welcome reward. We are not talking about the Florence Nightingale based fallacy that women are the born carers who should sacrifice their personal needs for cash, status and acknowledgement in order to clean, care and serve.

Researchers and academics, Karina Doorley and Eva Sierminska talk of a Beauty Premium providing greater differentiated salaries, at the lower levels of work, for those with specifically ascribed beauty traits (when compared with those where these traits are not present.)

Young Hollywood actresses and corporate interns may occupy this space. Those that are objectively considered beautiful are found to have more than those that aren’t. This applies to career prospects, pay, partnering with wealthier men and encountering less resistance in a number of specific work tasks. Beauty is opening doors in the workplace.

The downside of the beauty premium is some of those doors lead to hotel bedrooms.

With beauty comes greater exposure to being pursued, abused and harassed sexually.

Beyond beauty, we quickly get into controversy – are generalised female behaviours actually a gender issue representing a valid and true difference – Men are from Mars etc., or are they a social construct resulting from 150 years of forced social, sexual and economic gender compliance policed and encouraged by parenting, education, the media and peer group pressure?

POWER – Overriding the dilemma above, is the historically dominant economic position – ownership of assets, enjoyment of access to work opportunities and preferential promotions to management roles of… men. Think corporate boards, Government, public bodies, media and education.

Clubbable men have held the reins for centuries.

Now, for their own specific reasons, they are not currently considering surrendering their privilege for the sake of fairness, equality, or, the pursuit of gender balance. Whatever you hear, they are not going to “budge over a bit” without a fight.

(There are one or two work areas that represent refreshing exceptions when it comes to female v male numbers in work – qualified doctors in medicine, the number of successful female fiction authors and successful high selling female recording artists.)

The world, as a whole though, is dominated by men when measured in terms of assets, cash (income and financial wealth), property, power and peer-to-peer help and access.

Power, abuse and the abuse of power – holding the means to inherited wealth, commercial wealth creation, career progression, and having the law on your side (an antediluvian male throw back), has lead to vast and wide ranging powers for men, specifically over women, and, the abuse of power manifest in the harassment of women in the workplace.

Please like, share and do add your constructive comment. Thanks.

End of Part 1.

In Part 2, next time; What do we see happening? And, What is to be done?

Author Profile – Susanne Schuler is a mediator, trainer and coach with CEDR – The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution – The most successful Mediation Service in the UK. Her book, Intercultural Mediation, is available via bookboon. Click on the link;

https://bookboon.com/en/intercultural-mediation-at-work-ebook

New Webinar – Marketing to Get More Training Days with Less Hassle and No Hustle

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Shocked girl eavesdropping.

I want to hear the webinar…

 

Intercultural Mediation at Work – Written by Susanne Schuler – Reviewed by Patrick Schmidt

Applicants need graciousness, benevolence and love  Mediation, as defined by Wikipedia, is a dynamic, structured, interactive process where a neutral third party assists disputing parties in resolving conflict through the use of specialized communication and negotiation techniques. A theoretical, dry … Continue reading

Trump – What Now? An Opinion Piece by Matthew Hill

Conflict Theory applied to the White House

Having returned from New York last week after the Inauguration and the Women’s Marches, I have digested some of the conversations we had over there and wanted to note a couple of observations from a cultural and conflict resolution point of view.

The White House, US president's residence, in Washington DC

It’s not him

The incongruence between DJT’s place in the White House and his level of communication (enthusiastic schoolboy) proves that he did not get there by merit of his ideas or solutions alone. Let us remember he is result of a large group of Americans who have lost a lot in reality and even more in their imagined mythical version of 1950’s America. Their frustration at the inability of any political party to do anything for them, to listen to them or to understand them is why they voted against politics and why we are here today.

Labels

The most frequent diagnosis of DJT I heard whilst in New York was “Psychopath”. A couple of Facebook posts have supplied compelling arguments for a label of Narcissistic Personality Disorder – Upgraded this week to Malignant Narcissist by one leading psychiatrist.

My issues with labels are that they excuse behaviours. They dissociate the conscious person and the decisions they make from accountability. To take the cultural community view of helping someone with difficulties is not a promising start for the next 4 years – as that person has the nuclear codes.

Macchiavelli

The author of the Prince – the ultimate cynical leader’s handbook would have advised sweeping away the old guard and launching a Blitzkrieg of radical policies that will have everyone reeling in their seats. Job done. The acting Attorney General is on her way and the Ambassadors around the world are packing up too and the intellectuals are failing to process the torrent of proposals leaving the White House.

Statue of Niccolo Macchiavelli in Florence

Niccolò Macchiavelli – The Cynic’s Guide to Leadership

Let us side step the shock and awe phase, get over our feelings of outrage and insult and attempt to be consequent.

Protest

Meeting and talking with the Marchers was the highlight of the trip – The atmosphere was one of an optimistic and loving community validating and celebrating the existence of a vast collection of people with healthy values and a positive spirit. Values based more on love and less on fear.

More on the problem with protest in a moment (1.7 million people in the UK signed a petition this week to reverse the Queen of England’s invitation to DJT for a State visit to the UK with golden carriages, full military honours and the rolling out of the great and the good of Blighty to put in a show for the new leader of the free world.)

Racism

DJT’s bizarre Black History Month breakfast was an historical denial on a grand scale as well as being a denial of DJT’s own baggage. His spinning of the contribution of African Americans – that their hard work laid down the foundations of modern America missed the point by many a mile. They were enslaved.

The point here is that there is no dialogue to be had. No numbers, facts, logic or reason will work against someone with zero interest in empowering the oppressed or curbing the dominance of the dominant. No argument will succeed. This is beyond debate, dialogue and exchange.

Conflict

From the perspective of Conflict Theory, we have moved passed dialogue and beyond cold conflict and are heading towards bipolar antipathy where exchanges are no longer listened to, reason has been thrown out of the window by both parties and negative emotions are triggered by simply seeing the other side or hearing their voice.

There is only one advantage to the HOT conflict phase – it gets dealt with – passive aggression can rumble on for years but when the furniture begins to fly then action is not far behind.

What is to be done?

Classical work on conflict suggests a starting point where energy is spent and attention is focused on the most leveraged areas where change is achievable and victories can be attained.

The post-election wounds are now healing and some brave commentators have uttered the bitter and necessary truth. The educated group who waged intellectual battle have missed the key point – it is not the content of the campaign, it is not the content of new policy – it is the cultural cause of our current situation that must be addressed.

We must give up the right to be right. We must come down from the hill of moral superiority – nothing will be heard from that altitude. It is about acting locally and moving beyond the facts (in Post-Truth America, facts are soooo last year.)

It is about new norms – America gets it political opinions from Netflix, Amazon Prime and Fox News. It is about creating stories, of creating characters with values that mean something. It is about starting an exciting narrative through the medium of drama / faction / story telling. That is the way, over time to tackle the fear that is driving the current political agenda and to move the majority toward a position of hope again.

Travel Ban

Shopping

A tragic example of this fear is the travel ban – with no statistics to back it up an overnight moratorium came in banning Muslims travelling to the US from the 7 Middle Eastern countries – The point is this – The move has the approval of the majority of Americans. They have swallowed it whole. They have heard the messages of fear and most currently choose to believe them. It is not true, but for them in this instance, action beats inaction – This myth provides a little comfort for them in dark times where their own personal reality seems so bleak and unending.

(The ban has been reversed by the courts and is being appealed now by DJT.)

Comment form Milton J. Bennett – Hello Mathew. Writing from the US, where I’ve been since Jan. 20., I’d like to comment on the purpose of the “psychopath” label regarding President Trump. People I have spoken with post shock are seriously considering two things: 1) how to keep the embers of a progressive agenda glowing during what will be a concerted move to the right (beyond the mandate of that slim electoral college win), and 2) how to mitigate the diplomatic credibility damage that is already being done by impetuous executive action. For instance, Khamanei has just said that Trump shows the “true face” of the US. The allegation of mental instability is an attempt to separate Trump from the US image. Some people I’ve talked to who supported Trump (either actively or by inaction), hoping that he would change or that that he would be restrained by “the system,” are now joining in the labeling. The move to the right will continue, but I guess there will be increasingly serious attempts to isolate or remove Trump

 

Culture, not just quotas, for better boardroom diversity An Opinion Piece by CEDR’s Kathryn Bradley

CEDR's Kathryn Bradley

CEDR’s Kathryn Bradley

According to the latest report published by the government this week, the gender ratio of FTSE 100 boards has reached a milestone, with 25% of board members now being women, an achievement credited to  the voluntary efforts made by such organisations to actively recruit board members to balance the gender gap. Whilst this number represents a significant increase over the last few years (from 12.5% in 2011), we shouldn’t be rushing to extol the virtues of gender quotas, tick the diversity box as a fait accompli and sit down to a celebratory cup of tea just yet.

Whilst Lord Davies’ report calls for an extension of these voluntary quotas, playing the numbers game can only hope to answer part of the problem. There seem to be two big issues that it is currently failing to address:

  1. The Cult of Board Culture– The latest US Republican debate provided a perfect example of what can happen when a homogenous (on the face of it at least) group of powerful men (and one woman) come together to argue their opinion and establish their superiority as potential future leaders of the free world. The irony of it was that the more they tried to compete for the airtime to demonstrate their leadership prowess, the more I feared that any of them would ever find themselves in the ultimate position of power. One of the most common complaints we hear from women in senior and executive leadership roles is not so much the homogeneity of gender but the absolute homogeneity of leadership, negotiating  and conflict styles that permeate the environment within the walls of the boardroom and govern the unspoken code of conduct at that most exclusive of tables. The all-powerful nature of such a culture means that many feel the need to ‘assimilate to survive’. This competitive, fist banging, who-can-shout-louder way of operating can mean some women find it very challenging to find an authentic way to integrate without losing themselves or their voice and we often hear of women who upon achieving the most senior positions come under fire for becoming too ‘Alpha’. I’ve even heard it said that this uncomfortable paradox is putting some women off aspiring to Board-level positions – a sad fact which no amount of quotas can fix! Many claim that more women on the board will be the automatic panacea to transform this culture into something much more inclusive and effective… I’m not so confident.
  2. Culture of Difference– It seems rightly uncontested that organisational diversity has a direct, transformative impact on the effectiveness and success of teams and leaders by encouraging and facilitating difference and embracing the creative conflict that this difference can generate resulting in the generation new ideas and the improvement of established ways of working. This is more than just a nice to have. Without this diversity we expose ourselves to homogenised ‘group think’ and significantly a higher risk of corporate scandal and even crime due to an inability of an organisation to effectively criticise, hold itself accountable or even see the issues as they arise. I wonder if the latest Volkswagen emissions scandal would have been allowed to happen if this culture of difference had existed amongst its senior leaders? Whilst it might have helped, I’m not sure a gender quota of 25% women would have been quite enough alone to prevent a global organisation turning a blind eye to its own decisions and actions. Gender is a crucial area to consider, but its only one aspect of human difference; an easy visible line to draw and make tangible through measurements and quotas. If we genuinely want to see organisational diversity that reflects the diversity of British society then we need to look beyond the obvious to embrace all aspects of difference, something which quotas are unlikely to achieve.

In summary, quotas are proving to be an important tool on the road to achieving organisational diversity but they are not the magic bullet people might be looking for or even the token activity they might be hoping to hide behind. If we want real, positive diversity in our executive teams, we also need to empower those in leadership roles at every level to embrace and encourage a culture of constructively challenging the norms, actively listening to those singing a different tune rather than shouting to be the loudest, and to shed the unshakeable habit of seeing conflict as something to be feared and avoided at all costs.

These are my thoughts…I’d love to hear yours.

Kathryn Bradley is a Programme and Project Manager at CEDR – the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution. CEDR is the UK’s largest provider of mediation training and services. www.cedr.com

Brainstorming Discussion Assistance Advice Team Concept

Cultural Diversity at Work

In Favour of A Cultural Compromise? – an opinion piece by Matthew Hill

The word COMPROMISE seems to produce a range of emotions, reactions and comments depending on who is listening.

“No one ever remembers a great compromise.”

Not quite win / Not quite win

Not quite win / Not quite win

My starting point for understanding compromise occurred in the white heat of alpha capitalism where it was legitimate for the winner to take all. This casino like attitude of winning and losing deflated the winner’s sensitivity for the consequences suffered by the loser. Freed, the protagonist treated the episode as a mere transaction and quickly moved on.

Within an intercultural setting we move from isolated transactions to societies and a timeline of connected events. Repetition may lead to escalating pain and negative beliefs for the loser. Over time, this produces a reaction – passive aggression, non-cooperation, resistance and accumulated feelings of resentment.

From a cultural perspective compromise can foster pragmatism, diplomacy and an emphasis on fostering long-term relationships. This creates a different social dynamic and energy. Here the outcome of “not quite to win / not quite win” may have the benefit of preserving a bond that will undoubtedly yield greater value over subsequent weeks, months and years.

In the Cartesian exchange of logic and rational questioning, the outcome of a compromise can be seen as an optimal solution that achieves the least worst outcome for both parties. In such a way we can ascribe a positive quality to this sometimes dirty word.

Mediator Paul Rathbone talks of the “amygdala hijack” a triggering of our primitive brain that produces the fight, flight or freeze response. This explains your neighbour’s angry outburst over a 10 cm boundary infringement in the garden or when you play Black Sabbath songs too late and too loud in the evening.

Here the starting position is a war cry – “revenge.”

Often it is the job of the mediator to bring competing parties to the table and with hard work, illustrate the costs of their competitive strategy in order to lay the groundwork for a mediated solution. The mediator’s magic works when the parties are ready to consider a deal that is “good enough” or accept something that both parties can “live with.”

It is when empathic listening skills encompass the consequence for the other party’s of one’s actions that the shift occurs.

The benefits of compromise

It preserves “face” and honour. It can save time, reduce the risk of retribution and it can preserve one of our most important and undervalued commodities – a give and take alliance.

It is the reputation – saving quality of a decent compromise that is frequently missed. Many cultures and communities value the status of their figureheads and require them to fight and win against foreign bodies.

It is in this spirit that the Golden Bridge of a dignified retreat is critical to reaching a longer-term mutually agreed settlement that yields the positive result of peace and prosperity.

It is a good General who knows when to fight. It is a great one who knows when to beat a hasty or even an undignified retreat.

So, what is the lesson here?

Can we build our self-awareness to a level where we know when our primitive brain is running the show? Can we interrupt our full pursuit of primitive revenge? Can we intervene and shout “STOP”, sidestep the caveman within us and re-engage our intellect to pursue a better path? Can we learn the reasonable allocation of assets through the pursuit of a dignified dialogue?

Will we now seek out optimum benefit for all parties with minimum damage to the status quo?

Homework – Test yourself tomorrow…

When you next receive a slight, challenge or provocation what will you do? Will your first thought be to avenge a wrong? And will your second be to calm your inner caveman? Hopefully your third thought will focus on creating mechanisms to preserve your relationship and to not inflict quite so much damage as you initially wished? Good luck with the struggle…

Matthew Hill is a culture and diversity facilitator working with international corporate executives.