Alex Winter, the film star and Harvard student who has led a campaign to tackle sexual assault on campus, will soon be launching a “City Council Is Watching” project that will employ real-time monitoring to check on online public spaces for sexual harassment. Members of Congress have also been accused of sexual harassment, and there has been a change of tone in the political debate on sexual harassment and assault. Even President Donald Trump, not renowned for his ground-breaking candidness, has addressed the issue publicly. He made his remarks after The New York Times reported that he was caught on a hot mic, and bragging that his treatment of women was not improper. He said it was “locker room talk” and criticized some of his comments: “I am not proud of it, but this is locker room, this is a guy’s world, this is a man’s world.”
This slew of revelations does not only create important cultural change in Washington, but also in the workplace. The protection from sexual harassment in the workplace is already being suggested as a possible model for companies using or not using a masturbatory device in the workplace. In the last few months, at least two private companies have used leering devices, which have raised concerns among their respective customers and employees. So what can be done to keep the technology out of the workplace?
Here are a few tips that are being shared to help employers keep their workplaces safe.
Warning: This information is likely to be used as a defense against wrongdoing, as was the case with with sexist whispering on aircraft, texting while driving and blaring New Age hip-hop around the office. Realize how much better we are now than 10 or 20 years ago when physical conduct was the subject of headlines. Now, sexual harassment on the Internet can only be called “creepy,” “harassment” or “offensive.” No matter what the size of the conversation, the general consensus is the effort should not be justified. Don’t say, “But that was online only,” as used to be the defense used by an unrepentant bigot. If a liberal company has a conservative staff, the added targets of Internet comments will never matter, but from a business perspective, the novelty of the situation is quickly fading away. Once the novelty wears off, no one will care about what you said. People will treat you as if you were a leftist radical that had gay sex with his nephew when the cameras weren’t there.
Another way of saying “my response is sexist,” or, in the worst cases, “I got out of line and I would like to apologize,” is to do it in a vague way. Hiding under the guise of “what was going on” makes it impossible to respond to different accusations and risks making the situation worse. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I take responsibility for my conduct” in this situation, if this will help. But doing so also makes it hard to respond to the accusations without appearing like the creep you are. That is the legal definition of harassment, which needs to be defined and enforced as if it were the lowest form of racism.
A third strategy is to set up consequences in case the situation goes wrong. Because Reddit isn’t Google, and Facebook and Twitter didn’t spring up out of the minds of high schoolers, a 10-minute suspension will not send a message. If the company’s policies on harassment are strong, everyone will know the consequences if they violate the rule, whether sexually or otherwise.
Finally, make sure everyone in the company knows who is in charge of the problem and when to call the corporate office. Especially if there is a traditional HR office. Not all organizations will have an HR department, but the person or group in charge of handling harassment complaints must keep track of those who may not be in a position to respond. Not all senior managers will have to take part, but a professional manager in the office and the person who brings the complaint should know who is to be informed.