Now this may shock you. My work is about supporting and promoting women in business. Surely I wouldn’t suggest women are responsible for being harassed! No. But what can women do to prevent being victims? Are there things that women do that increase the chances of being harassed? If they don’t do those things, do women have some responsibility the harassing behavior?
First, we must acknowledge that we humans are sexual beings. Sexual attraction happens in the workplace, in the halls of government, and on the production set. That is just a fact of human nature. People fall in love at work. (I know. I married a co-worker!) Falling in love (or consensual relationships) are different from harassment. Harassment is when sexual interest isn’t wanted, mutual or appropriate. Recognizing that sexuality is part of our nature, there are some obvious, practical ways women can minimize the chance of being harassed.
Here’s an easy one. If a man invites you to his hotel room, and you don’t want sex, insist on meeting, and staying, in a public place. Don’t go there! Duh!
Second, don’t dress in the office the way you might when meeting someone for a date! I have had several men tell me their stories – of working with an attractive woman who is showing enough cleavage or other skin to distract them. I have some sympathy for this. Just as women have the right to do their best work without unwanted advances, men have the right to do their work without being distracted. Yes, men are responsible for managing their response. But women can make that easier! We don’t need to wear burkas; we need to dress professionally at work.
I once coached a young woman who worked for me and complained of receiving suggestive comments. I took her aside and asked if she wanted to be treated like a professional. When she responded, “Yes,” I said, “Then dress like one.” In this case, I wasn’t thinking of the men who had treated her unprofessionally. I was thinking about her. I wasn’t scolding her for unprofessional behavior. I was giving her practical advice to help her receive the treatment she wanted. And it worked. She took my advice — and was promoted several times.
The third is more subtle and harder to put in words. It has to do with our self-image and the “energy” we hold and express. Women can be sure their energy invites professional treatment. Here is how I learned this.
When I entered the corporate world, there were several male executives who had a rule of not going to lunch with a woman. One required that his office door be open when meeting with a woman. Both were frustrating to me. Excluding me from going to lunch left me out of important opportunities to get to know my colleagues and develop trusting relationships. Leaving a door open seemed insulting.
Being defiant, I began to ask my male peers to lunch. I kept it friendly and business-like. I made it clear at each lunch that I was married and was interested only in getting to know them and improving our working relationship. When I had a meeting with the executive with the open-door policy, I closed the door and sat down. I was all business. My demeanor – and my energy – was of a professional who had no interest in anything but being friendly and handling our work issues. I held myself as a business woman and projected that energy in these situations. I believe that is why I don’t have #MeToo stories from the workplace.
Women can manage their actions, their appearance, and their energy to minimize the chances of an unwanted sexual advance. Do they bear some responsibility when they don’t do these things? What thoughts do you have on how women can avoid being harassed?