Creating conditions hostile to harassment
2017 was a watershed year for the widespread recognition that we have a problem, many problems, in many workplaces, across all industries. Secrecy is the corrosive factor. Just as secrecy kept problems in the catholic church hidden for years, secrecy around workplace sexual harassment in the form of financial payments tied to gag orders let the corrosion continue. Once the flooding started, more and more people started to wonder, how has this been going on for so long? It takes a change of perspective. It is easy for us to fall into the trap of believing that conditions for others are roughly the same as they are for us. That is the basis of the fundamental attribution error in psychology. We tend to attribute our own behavior as being reactive to conditions but chalk up others' behavior as being indicators of their personalities. Then, when enough people speak up, we start to realize that maybe there is a there there. One such moment for me was reading about Philando Castile having been pulled over 40-50 times without citations given. Something is clearly going on here....
As Daniel Baitch describes this shift related to workplace culture, "The veil of disbelief and intimidation that kept harassment victims stifled began to peel away." Daniel has been researching issues that separate speakup cultures from shutdown cultures. "In a speakup environment, management’s primary concern is to identify problems, surface ideas, seek feedback, and resolve issues quickly while keeping speak-uppers safe from any kind of retaliation. In a shutdown environment, leaders are more defensive and dismissive than open and accepting. Here, an employee’s words can end up swept under a rug, and she or he can end up swept under a proverbial bus."
An NPR podcast brings this difficult issue to life. Before speaking up, we look for other examples to get a sense of how the situation might play out. One woman talks of her abuse having taken place 2 years after the Anita Hill case, "...and you see how that went." https://www.npr.org/series/423302056/hidden-brain
Leaders and all of us need to see complaints for what they are, gifts that took immense courage to bring up, that allow us greater understanding of what's going on, and that provide opportunities to make it better. If you want your ship to be seaworthy, you must stop the corrosion from eating away at the hull.
Baitch, D., (2018). Crossing a Shaky Bridge to Your Manager’s ‘Open’ Door: The Challenge of Creating a ‘SpeakUp’ Work Culture. Soon to be published manuscript.