Sexual Harassment Part 3. What IS being done? The Final Part in the Series by Intercultural Mediator – Susanne Schuler

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.

Businessman portrait

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.

What now?

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?

https://culture99.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/sexual-harassment-what-do-we-see/

 

Part 1 Where did it come from?

https://culture99.wordpress.com/2018/03/18/sexual-harassment-where-did-that-come-from-an-opinion-piece-by-susanne-schuler-part-1/

 

Advertisements

Sexual Harassment Part 2 by Intercultural Mediator Susanne Schuler– 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 may project their own feelings and prejudice onto the selection process accordingly.

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

What has just happened?

Arising from a collective and projected male knowledge of the threat of harassment, they pre-emptively exclude her from consideration, knowing of the harassment that can come 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

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

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