Thursday, October 12, 2017

Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace

When I was 18 – 21 years old I was a waitress making money for college. It was one of two jobs I held each summer. Every evening I drove over to my favorite Italian restaurant in my polyester uniform and worked with friends/co-workers serving, for the most part, lovely customers. Every once in a while an unruly patron came in and made suggestive comments to the servers. Once, and because I didn’t know any better, I twirled for a $20.00 tip from a drunk guy who hit it big that day at the race track. One of the owners of the restaurant, seeing the exchange rushed over and put the guy in his place (Thank you Marie).

Fast forward a couple of years and I was working at my first professional job at the corporate headquarters for a huge retail firm. The VPs would wander the halls late in the afternoon prowling for fresh young things to ask to dinner. Some women went and came back the next day with stories of how the men would tell them that they could pull a few strings and talk to a couple of people, possibly offering a bait of a raise or promotion IF the young woman would spend the night. I was asked to go out on those dinners a few times but said no (even before knowing what went on) because those guys were creepy and about as old as my father.

Another time when I was working for this same company, I visited a local store. On my drive home I got a flat tire and someone immediately stopped behind me and asked if he could help. I turned him down but he persisted. I finally gave in and he changed my tire. I thanked him and turned to step into my car and he pinned me to the door. I remember him saying something like, "How about a kiss for a thank you?". Luckily I was able to push get away from him and jump into my car and lock the door. The entire ride home I was afraid that he was following me. To this day I think he planted the nail that was in my tire. It was too convenient that he happened to be right there as my tire blew.

This type of harassing behavior was common place and I saw it in every company in which I worked until one day, someone, somewhere sued a company and history was made. Finally.

In the early 80s I was a learning and development program designer and I was asked to write an anti-harassment program to help stop this intimidating nonsense within my own company. Human Resources put policies in place that said that in no way, shape or form would sexual harassment be tolerated. It went on to state that words, actions, pictures, threats, bribes, jokes would not be tolerated. If someone felt they were being harassed they were to tell the harasser to stop and if that intimidated them, they should go to the Human Resources department. I designed the training and presented it to the teams within the division. While the policies and training didn’t work all of the time, it tremendously cut out the harassment. The training was eventually rolled into an anti –discrimination/harassment training that is the standard for those companies today.

The news today shows that the casting couch never disappeared and Harry Weinstein and his army of good old boys still hold court in Hollywood. Rape, assault, harassment are common place. Over the past several months other organizations have disclosed news that a group of high level people were harassing people behind the scenes and in colleges and universities date rape is common knowledge. 

Unfortunately, power and authority can still intimidate people.

No man or woman should put up with any type of harassment anywhere. In organizations, men and women today who feel as if they have been discriminated against or harassed should immediately address this crude, ignorant behavior either themselves or through their human resources department. The human resources professionals should also take a look at company policies and present mandatory anti-harassment training. In colleges or universities the campus security, administration and police should work together to address this crisis.

For further information or to learn the history of the policies please see at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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