Eileen Dooley is a human resources strategist at VF Career Management in Calgary.
Move over, men – women may be joining you soon in the Harassment Hall of Shame.
It seems to be open season on men these days. I can name a few recent examples of harassment or misconduct stories in the news, but seeing that new names hit the headlines each week, whomever I name will be very old news in short order as new offenders are outed.
Each time a famous or high-profile person is accused of harassment, it causes many of us to think back to a time in our careers when we may have felt violated, demeaned or otherwise treated inappropriately at work. And since we live in an inclusive world, figuratively and literally (think "peoplekind"), I am not referring to just women having these thoughts.
Men are reminiscing about how they have been treated by women, and guess what? They may be coming after the women who berated them, used sexual innuendos with them or outright physically harassed them.
As with women, it is not hard to find men who have experienced this. I talked to five men I know at random. Four of them had stories. One senior human resources leader I spoke with had a woman surprise him and take his picture. It was then pasted beside one of George Clooney, with the headline "Who is Hotter?" This poster was e-mailed to the entire department, and others who wished to play the game, along with electronic voting boxes for accuracy. He told me that it was kind of flattering, but also humiliating.
A second story involved actually slapping a new hire on the bum. Yes, this actually happened. In a mostly female work environment, each time the leader had a chance, she would tell the new hire it was a game to see how many bum-slap opportunities she and her colleagues could find. It made going up the stairs or bending over to get something out of the filing cabinet an X-rated experience. Ironically, he went on to become a supplier for a company that employed that leader, until recently when she made a quick exit – and quick exits are usually not voluntary.
That's right – women have proved to be just as capable of harassing men. And like women, for many reasons, men do not come forward. It is not because they would not be believed. Since the dawn of time, men are expected to either fight back or be more "manly." They're expected to suck it up, whether the harassment is from their boss or anyone else. Do not show weakness. And most importantly, do not talk about it or assemble your support group.
Talking about their experiences and coming together has helped to amplify the push for women to go public with their experiences. Strength does come in numbers, and people feel more empowered and supported when they know there is someone or some group they can count on. Just as women have found their voice, do not be surprised if men find their voice as well – and start shouting it from the rooftops.
When you are a man experiencing such humiliating and demeaning behaviour, what do you do?
To this day, there are women who use their sexuality – whether it's revealing clothing or innuendo – to get men to agree with them or even to get promoted. They feel the men enjoy the attention, and the women enjoy getting what they want. It may not be overtly grabbing someone's bum, but it is aimed at causing discomfort and awkwardness. It is harassment, and men should not put up with it any more than women should put up with the male variants.
The reality is that societal norms change, if slowly. What may have been seen at one time as innocent "workplace flirting" is clearly not okay now, and perhaps never really was so innocent at all. The reality is that it usually was only okay with one side , and never was okay with the other side. No one said anything, and no one wanted to rock the boat. Women are now quite rightly taking action. Men may prove to no longer be tolerating it either, especially since they are under the microscope for anything they say or do that may be interpreted as harassment – whether it happened last week or 20 years ago.