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I Hear You

Thursday December 14, 2017 | Filed under:

As CEO of a 450-employee company, I’ve closely followed the unexpected firings and resignations of powerful men toppled by shocking allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond. The news spurred serious conversations with co-workers and friends (male and female), both online and in the office, along with a close review of our own company policies. 

Everyone seems to agree on the basics: No one should harass or assault a co-worker, and if you do, you will be punished. That’s clear. But the more I talk to people, the more I realize how much is unclear. Everyone, it seems, has questions.

  • If a female co-worker suffers a personal loss, is it still OK for a male to give her a hug?
  • Is it OK for a male to ask out a female if he’s not her boss? What if he is her boss?
  • Can we still tell jokes?
  • Is every example of harassment a fire-able offense?
  • What proof do we need?
  • If the harassment took place years ago, can it still be reported and acted upon?
  • Can I get fired if I call someone “honey” or “girl”?
  • What if I tell someone she looks nice?
  • Should a man still meet in an office alone with a woman?
  • Is this only about men harassing women?

At first glance, some questions may seem a little silly. But when it comes to this issue, I think all questions deserve consideration. The most important thing is to keep the conversations going. If you haven’t already, talk to the women in your life. I’m betting you’ll hear a few stories about what they’ve endured over the years that will make your blood boil.

What one female friend recently wrote to me in response to a Facebook post resonated the most: “The more of these acts that get addressed, the more hope I have that our daughters and granddaughters will have a safer, more comfortable workplace, free of the intimidation, lewd comments, disgusting propositions, and the dilemma of whether to report it and risk retaliation or ignore it, laugh it off, or go along to keep their jobs, make the sale, or get the promotion they deserve…Sadly, it’s rampant and it's disgusting. It’s time.”

As a business leader, what can you do?

Along with ASI’s attorney and head of HR, I’ve reviewed our own harassment policies and spoken about the issue to employees at a recent all-company meeting. We already conduct a mandatory training session for managers and will likely offer it to all employees in early 2018. 

No one wants to turn a workplace into a minefield, with everyone worried about everything they say or everything they do. But like it or not, a long-overdue public reckoning has arrived. It’s our duty as human beings to listen to what’s being said, to take all allegations seriously, to educate ourselves and to make sure we behave morally, legally and respectfully – not because we fear being sued, but because it’s the right thing to do.

As for answers to the questions posed above, here’s my short version: No touching. No intimidation. No lewd comments or jokes. No means no. And if you’re the boss, don’t do or say anything in the workplace you wouldn’t want your mother to know about. 

Let’s keep the conversation going. What are your thoughts?