Guest Post by Lauren Stiller Rikleen
The enormity of Harvey Weinstein’s transgressions will stand as a permanent stain on Hollywood, but the lessons that should be learned reach far beyond the rich and famous. Predatory behaviors are rarely completely hidden. Moreover, the more powerful the individual, the greater the cloak of protection and complicity.
Recently, I was asked to speak to parents of private school students about ways they can help their daughters develop grit and resilience, and be better equipped to face the challenges of the workplace. A parent, reacting to the recent headlines, asked how I would advise a young woman early in her career to handle a situation where she was the target of sexual harassment.
When Harassment Happens
The question brought to mind the countless conversations I’ve had with female professionals who shared their stories of inappropriate advances from men, senior to them, who could cause harm to their careers. In too many cases, that fear of negative repercussions led them to stay silent, rather than report behavior to potentially unsupportive management.
I also thought of examples where the risk was taken and the organization responded exactly as one would hope they would – taking the allegations seriously and conducting an investigation that led to the perpetrator, not the victim, leaving.
In acknowledging the potential risks, I then answered the question by stating that fear cannot be the reason that allows predatory behavior to continue. In every workplace there are allies – supportive women and men – who can be counted on to help navigate painful issues. Find those people, and then take whatever steps are necessary to remove the protective shield that has allowed improper behaviors to flourish. It may be risky to report a perpetrator who has the power to negatively impact a career, but it is the only way that harassing behaviors can ultimately be stopped.
Piercing the National Consciousness
My hope is that this will be the one positive result from the horrific allegations against Harvey Weinstein. This scandal seems to have finally pierced the national consciousness about the reality of sexual harassment in the workplace and those who allow it to continue.
One particularly important aspect of the media coverage is the focus on the conditions that allowed Weinstein’s behavior to continue for decades. Those who were complicit by their silence or by their inept defense of their friend have been subjected to withering scrutiny, and stand as symbols of a culture that allows the harassment of women to exist in too many workplaces.
For example, fashion icon Donna Karan became collateral damage when her defense of Weinstein sent her tumbling into an abyss of hypocrisy and cluelessness. When asked to comment about Weinstein’s firing the day it happened, Karan responded by stating that women need to look at how they “display” themselves, adding: “Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?”
The outrage sparked by her comments initially resulted in the weak apology consistently made by those who miss the point: “I am truly sorry to anyone that I offended…”
Even as her apologies have grown more urgent since, the reaction against her initial remarks displays how the fashion industry contributes to the objectification of women, and then vilifies women for responding to fashion trends. Images of Donna Karan’s fashions through the years show clothing that exudes sensuality and sexuality. Karan may feel it important to defend her friend, but nothing excuses the ignorance of her own complicity in contributing to a culture that objectifies women.
Harassment: Ending the Silence
Sexual harassment is a hushed threat to women’s careers and a problem that workplaces delude themselves into thinking they’ve resolved through mandatory training programs and written policies. But when the perpetrator is a person of influence, it is as though an invisible shield descends, creating conditions of silence that ultimately drive or push victims out of their job.
Silence is the fuel that allows individuals to abuse their power.Tweet
Workplaces must ask themselves what specific measures they are taking to prevent the protection of predatory behavior at any level and to protect those brave individuals who report that behavior.
Silence is the fuel that allows individuals to abuse their power. Fear is the accelerant that allows these abuses to continue unchecked. It is time we are all honest with our daughters, and our sons, about the strength they bring when they support each other and reveal the secrets and lies of predators and those that shield their behaviors.
Lauren Stiller Rikleen is the author of You Raised Us, Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams. As president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, Lauren speaks, trains, and consults on the topics of: strengthening multi-generational relationships; minimizing the impacts of unconscious bias; and women’s leadership and advancement. She is also a Visiting Scholar at the Boston College Center for Work & Family in the Carroll School of Management. Follow her on Twitter: @LaurenRikleen
1) Photo by Force Majeure on Unsplash
2) Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash