Tags Posts tagged with "workplace"

workplace

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If a man and a woman are seen together having lunch, the inevitable gossip ensues. The two of them may be colleagues or they may simply be friends. But rumors start. Does this always happen? Not always, of course, but often enough to discourage pairing off for an exchange of ideas or career advice perhaps in business. Now, with sexual harassment in the news, there is added pressure for the sexes to go their separate ways lest any movement or words be misunderstood between them. What nonsense.

Please be assured that I am as passionately against sexual harassment as anyone on the planet. Wherever it may be found, it should be exposed and halted. But the pendulum, I believe, may be swinging too far in the other direction. Recently Vice President Mike Pence mentioned that he doesn’t eat alone with a woman who is not his wife. Recent polls indicate that a majority of employees of both sexes feel it is inappropriate to have a drink or dinner together and, although less so, it may also be inappropriate for lunch. Even driving together in a car can be looked at askance.

This wariness, although perhaps helpful in avoiding situations of sexual harassment, is a loser for both sexes, especially in the workplace. For men, who are apparently unsure where the boundaries are for a touch on the arm or an innocent compliment on a colleague’s dress, there is the loss of diversity. Women can have different sensibilities and can offer different perspectives than men, to the benefit of both. A recent advertisement featuring a woman has just been yanked by a major company because it may be misinterpreted as racist. My guess is that no woman executive of that company saw the ad before it went public.

For women, the loss is perhaps greater. Since most of the leadership of companies and institutions is still made up of men, the mentorship and sponsorship of female employees is at least as vital, or even more so, than for male junior-level employees. But if a woman cannot enjoy a close professional working relationship with such a sponsor, she is often blocked from moving up in the ranks.

I am reminded of my own business life and the people who helped me advance. Yes, there were a couple of women mentors who were willing to share their skills with me and promote my status, but there were more men along the way who selected me for advancement. One local businessman volunteered important advice to me at a critical time in the early years of the newspaper. Another energetically proposed me as a candidate for president of the New York Press Association, a position for which I will always be grateful. Another supported my intuition at a decisive juncture, I’m sure I don’t know why, but it worked out well. Several others helped me with various financial matters.

Did I meet with them alone for lunch or dinner or, heavens, for a drink? You bet I did. How else to get private time for critical conversation? Meetings in the office are routinely interrupted or overheard. Did I ever meet alone with anyone of the opposite sex in his bedroom? You can put money on the answer being “no”! There are lines one doesn’t cross, no matter what generation one belongs to, and they really are not so difficult to decipher.

Are work colleagues ever sexually attracted to each other? As long as there are men and women, there can be attraction between them. But so what? That’s the way the two sexes were put forth. Presumably we adults know all about that and can conduct ourselves accordingly. Or, to return to square one, we can avoid each other completely.

We women have a great deal we can offer men and vice versa. It would be so foolish to limit our contacts to only half the population. And besides, it wouldn’t nearly be as much fun.

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What people don’t say can speak volumes.

Take the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Numerous women have come forward and described abhorrent behavior toward women by someone in power. That’s not a new phenomenon, but what’s new is the identity of the perpetrator and the time period involved — decades, it appears.

When asked about the allegations, President Donald Trump said he was “not at all surprised to see it.”

Hmm, not at all surprised? Didn’t the person whose every word and tweet gets splashed across headlines around the world have anything else to say, like, “If the allegations are true, it’s horrible and we should address this problem as a nation.” Or, “We as a country need to address this serious problem.”

No, he didn’t. In a follow-up question, a reporter asked if Weinstein’s behavior was inappropriate, and Trump responded that the movie executive said it was.

Again, not much there. I recognize this wasn’t a women’s rights forum and that he didn’t have prepared remarks or a flowing speech to cite, but he had an opportunity to address a real problem and he seemed more prepared to suggest he knew that Weinstein’s superstar public character had some tarnish.

The New York public transport system has run ads for years imploring, “If you see something, say something.”

That’s not always easy, especially when no one else might have been around to hear or see inappropriate comments or gestures.

This isn’t about political correctness: It’s about allowing people to do their best work without feeling threatened or uncomfortable. Locker room talk, or anything else that resembles a put-down for whatever reason, creates a hostile work environment.

Almost exactly a year ago, candidate Trump described several women who accused the Clintons of improper behavior towards women as “courageous” at a press conference before a debate with Hillary Clinton. While Trump hasn’t shared any such words of support for Weinstein’s victims, others have applauded them for coming forward. If Weinstein’s alleged victims had done so initially, taking on the equivalent of a movie icon could have put their careers at risk.

Gender politics are often a challenging and sore point at work. People can often dismiss inappropriate comments as being jokes or suggesting that their words weren’t what they intended.

Some jobs, like Wall Street trading, or, well, locker rooms, often involve a type of bawdy humor that is part of the culture.

But why should anyone have to tolerate it? With training and a heightened public awareness, the excuse “Well, that’s just the way it is” could turn into, “That’s not the way we do things around here.”

Pundits are suggesting that if eight women have come forward to accuse Weinstein, there are likely many more.

Then again, if he could and did engage in inappropriate conduct for decades, you have to imagine there are other men who did it, too.

Weinstein, in his own words, needs help. So, too, does the rest of society. He suggested he came from a different era. Others have taken him to task, indicating that somewhere along the line, he missed some major strides society made between whatever time period he imagined and today.

Who else is living in that era and how can we help them? Maybe, in addition to training the next set of up-and-coming managers, we should make sure the top executives — most of whom are men — understand what’s OK and what crosses a real line that is not only objectionable, but is also problematic for them and their careers.

We watch movies for many reasons: We want to be inspired, we want to understand other people and, sometimes, we want a perspective that helps us understand ourselves better. Maybe the inappropriate actions of a moviemaker can shed some more light on a problem that clearly isn’t unique to one person. A corollary to the transport ad, perhaps, should be, “If you hear something, say something.”