Dear Sons: If You Wouldn’t Say It To Me, Don’t Say It At Work
Who will it be today? Stand by. Because the avalanche of harassment accusations has only just begun. Of late, we’ve gotten a preview of what happens to men like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer. Men who abuse their positions and power to sexually harass, intimidate, and attack women who’d rather not be subjected to their crass advances.
We hear about the famous ones. Men who have public faces and personas. Men with more money than their accountants can count. Men for whom celebrity has skewed their realities and proprieties.
But it’s not just media titans, movie stars, and comedy czars who are culpable. It’s men (and, yes, women) in everyday jobs in everyday life who behave inappropriately with those with less power and more to lose. This is not just a celebrity problem. This is an everywoman’s problem. The fact that the #metoo movement has gone viral is just one indicator of that.
So, what’s a man to do? Is his workplace now a minefield of unintended double entendre and misinterpreted jokes? Must he watch every word lest he be accused of offending or, more seriously, harassing a coworker? Perhaps. But only if said man is still not getting it. It being that his offensive, salacious behavior jig is up.
I have sons who are making their ways in their newfound professional lives. They are young men who really like women. They are young men who enjoy enduring friendships with women. But they, like all men, must accept that what has long passed for acceptable and commonplace behavior in the work environment is going the way of the dinosaurs. And it’s about damn time.
So, my advice to my boys is simply this: If you wouldn’t say it to me or do it in front of me, don’t say it or do it at work.
It’s really not that complicated.
But for those who need some reminders or those who are newbies to the game, here are some common sense rules for workplace behavior:
1. Compliments. Careful here. A casual, infrequent “You look nice today” is probably okay, but don’t overdo it. Avoid any specific comments about a coworker’s figure or clothing: “You look really hot in that dress,” or “I love a woman in stiletto heels!” should be obvious no-nos.
2. Consider your audience. Are you interacting with someone who works for you or who holds a “lesser” position in your office? Be mindful of how your words or actions might be interpreted by someone who may already feel the power differential.
3. Keep it zipped. Do I really need to include this one? Seems so. Because many of these men have been accused of exposing themselves (and then some!) to the shock of their victims. Let’s keep it simple: Don’t show your junk — in person or otherwise — to anyone who hasn’t shown an interest in seeing it.
4. Say something. Many others now admit they were aware of these men’s behaviors and never spoke up. Don’t join their hand-wringing ranks. Be the guy who says, “You know, I’ve been hearing some shady stuff about you. It’s not cool, so cut the crap.” Or better, “I’m going to tell you this once. If I hear anything else about it, I’ll make sure everyone hears about it.”
5. Be supportive. If a female coworker comes to you with concerns about another coworker, don’t write off her concerns with, “Oh, come on, you know he’s harmless,” or “He was just kidding. Don’t be so sensitive.” Instead, hear her out. If she asks, keep your conversation in confidence. Let her know you’ll support her in whatever next steps she chooses.
6. Humor. We’ve all gotten a laugh out of the overused catch phrase, “That’s what she said!” And, in the right circumstances, it is funny. But the workplace isn’t the place for sexualized humor, so don’t go there.
7. Eyes up. Keep your eyes on someone’s face when you’re speaking with them. You wouldn’t let your gaze wander to a male coworker’s chest, so use that as your gauge.
8. Lateral moves. Even if a coworker has the same job you do or makes the same salary, these same rules apply. Sexual harassment is not singular to the boss/underling dynamic.
9. Personal space. We all need it and we all need to be aware of others’ need for it. Standing uncomfortably close to someone or blocking their exit is never okay. Back off.
10. Love match. If you’re attracted to someone at work and you’d like to take it further, start by taking it slow. If it’s meant to be, it will happen. Never hound someone into going out with you or make them feel bad if they don’t feel the same way.
11. Apologize. We all say or do things we shouldn’t from time to time. If you feel you may have offended someone, get out ahead of it. A sincere apology goes a long way, always.
We clear now? Good. Told you it wasn’t complicated. Now, back to work.