Learn why harassment is about power.
- Harassment is about power. If you think about it we exchange power with others all day long. Your boss has power when she gives you a directive. At lunch with your co-worker the power is handed back and forth as you take turns speaking. And we don't like those we define as difficult people because we feel powerless to stop them. For example, when you have a co-worker who's complaining a lot, what he's doing is taking your power because the complaining controls the conversation. So we're constantly juggling power and those who are engaging in sexual harassment always have it.
In my early 20s I worked in a law firm and one of the attorneys kept asking me out. It wasn't overt, it was comments like "We should meet up at the dog park this weekend." I always tried to brush it off my laughing or making some sarcastic comment to let him know I wasn't interested, but he chose to ignore it. He wasn't cornering me in the file room and he wasn't demanding sexual favors. And he might have thought he was just harmlessly trying to get to know me but because he wouldn't stop asking he had power and it made me uncomfortable.
You might asking yourself why didn't you just stand up for yourself, well I did. I wrote him a letter, sealed it and put it in his box. The letter stated that if he asked me out again I would tell his boss. When he received the letter he came into my office and raised his voice at me asking me if I had any idea what a letter like that could do to his career? He was standing over me, I stood up and calmly told him that I hadn't shared the letter with a soul and all I was asking was to be left alone. Then there's the army major mentioned in Gretchen Carlson's Ted Talk whose underlings would wave dollar bills in her face and ask her to dance.
When she stood up for herself and told her superior officer he said he was surprised it was only one dollar bills because she's definitely worth five or 10. It's these types of situations that happen every single day that need more focus if we're really going to start reducing discrimination and harassment in our workplaces. Yes, we need to focus on the big events too, like the sexual assaults, but if we're talking about preventing those things we need to stop those events that, if allowed to continue, turn into the more egregious ones.
- Defining harassment
- Why targets often don't report harassment
- Conducting a culture assessment
- Addressing all bad behavior, even incivility
- Designating multiple channels for reporting
- Leading an open discussion
- Preventing harassment through interpersonal skills
- Improving your ability to empathize with others