Part One of a Series on Predatory Behavior
By Adam Corson-Finnerty
I’m sure a lot of us men are thinking about our workplace behavior right now. Who did I harass? Who did I molest? What about what I did at that office party; what I said to that young woman who worked for me?
And — is she going to tell? Are they going to tell?
I hope they do. Tell, that is. It’s time for a house cleaning. And a senate cleaning.
And an office cleaning, and a closet cleaning….
This will not be pretty. A lot of big trees will continue to fall. That’s good. If #metoo keeps going, we will have reached a cultural tipping point. With their careers on the line, men will scurry to bring their workplace behaviors into line. Women will experience one less form of oppression in the workplace. And this is major. But we can’t stop at the big trees. Sexual predation in the workplace goes all the way to the minimum wage male co-worker.
I would like to see this snowball keep rolling down the hill. I would like to see businesses, non-profits, governmental bodies, and religious bodies become proactive. The logical unit to take the initiative is the Human Relations Department. Let’s give every HR Department a mandate to talk with every employee — male or female — about whether they have been the victim, or perpetrator, of sexual harassment. Rewrite the rules, so that it is easier for victims to come forward, openly or anonymously. Do rigorous follow-up on each complaint, and if the facts prove out, take appropriate action.
“Appropriate action” doesn’t necessarily mean firing or demoting the transgressor. In mild cases, a formal apology, a note in his personnel file, and a watchful eye on his future behavior may be sufficient. “Shipping out” may not be necessary, but “shaping up” will be required.
Yes, I know. I am focusing on male harassment of females. And yes, there are examples of males harassing other males, and females harassing males (or other females). So the same rules should apply.
Unfortunately, the HR Department has often been seen as a culprit rather than an employee advocate. In a remarkable conversation among seven women, organized and published by the NY Times, this is what journalist Soledad O’Brien had to say:
It’s not always about what’s legal. Twenty years ago, young women would come to me and say, “This thing is happening at work,” and I felt it essential to tell them what the fallout could be. To say: “Let me explain to you what the H.R. department is about. They work for the company. Their goal is to protect the company’s financial interests. Here’s what will happen: You will become the person who complained. You’ll become a pariah. All of your good reviews will become perfectly average reviews, which will then become bad reviews. And then eventually — not immediately — you will be let go for some reason, if you haven’t been worn out and already quit.” I’ve seen it many times.
Even worse, some HR units have collaborated with payoffs, resignations of the victims, and binding non-disclosure agreements. Basically, a cover-up. With the predator continuing to stay in power.
Because of this, some people have advocated the formation of a separate unit within a company to root out sexual harassment. Others have urged companies to hire an outside firm to undertake a full sexual harassment “audit,” which would include the review of individual cases, and recommendations for improved complaint procedures. Megyn Kelly recently advised that harassment victims “need to find the underground army” of female workplace colleagues who have also experienced sexual predation, because “… if we had known how many other women at Fox News had been suffering, these things would have ended much sooner.”
And here’s a good new stratagem: former 20th Century Fox film studio executive Claire Schmidt is developing a new web application called AllVoices. This site will allow employees to anonymously post complaints, with the combined results transmitted directly to the CEO and the company board. AllVoices could become a barometer that measures workplace safety for women and men.
I think it is important for males to speak out about this, including males like me. I consider myself to be a feminist, and I have been outspoken in this area. Even so, in looking back at my own behavior, I can identify three occasions where I have crossed a line. None involved a person reporting to me or whose career I could have affected, and in each case I apologized and have had my apology accepted.
We are all sinners, as the preachers remind us, and any male should be careful before he casts any stones. Even so, I think we males should join with our female colleagues in calling for proactive structural change.
Could this become a “witch-hunt”? If by that we mean that a lot of men will be falsely accused, I think that is highly unlikely. Use rape cases as an indicator: only 2–10% of accusations have been insufficiently supported or proven false, according to various studies, with the norm being slightly less than 6%. That means that at least 94% are legitimate. That’s why any investigation of harassment should start by giving full credulity to the victim and then proceeding from there.
Frankly, I worry that this moment of truth-telling will crest and recede with tens of thousands of workplace predators still in place. Let’s not allow that to happen.
Let’s take this moment of catharsis and transform it into lasting change.
Watch for Part Two: Boys Will be Boys
Watch for Part Three: Caution: Men at Home
Adam Corson-Finnerty is a writer and lives with his wife and five cats in Southampton, PA. He recently retired after 50 years in the non-profit field. His career included major stints at the University of Pennsylvania, the New Jersey Audubon Society, and the American Friends Service Committee.