Over the last week, we’ve all watched in horror as chilling, straight-up harrowing accounts – one after the other – were ripped from the lives of women to bring down ex movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
And as we took in each woman’s account of being groped on a crowded train or sexually assaulted when she was intoxicated or not giving consent or enduring patterns of abuse, repeatedly, for decades, what many of us – no matter our genders – thought is what kind of seismic shifts need to happen to change the ugly tides in our work world? What cases like Weinstein’s should do is reinforce the dire need for more trust, equilibrium in a work culture so abuse can’t go on for this many decades before it brings a powerful man down.
What the season of sex scandals should not have done is reinforce gender-based favoritism. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times recentlywrote about how sexual harassment scandals can sometimes spook men, leaving women to suffer. Men see careers like Weinstein’s destroyed and think, ‘it can happen to me.’ They slowly transform into versions of Mike Pence, avoiding one-on-one meetings with women and refusing to sponsor female employees, which research shows is one of the greatest contributor to career advancement. In the name of protecting themselves – and maybe some of them, like our vice president, will claim that they’re protecting the woman’s reputation – we find more scenarios where women are kept out of closed door discussions and barred from one-on-one meetings. How can more women step into leadership positions if she doesn’t have the same opportunities as her male colleagues to have sensitive and strategic discussions – often taking place behind closed doors – with senior leaders?
It’s a sad day to say that in the 21st century, men and women still have not figured out how to work together. So much so that when we witness something as ugly as sexual harassment and abuse, instead of facing it together, we’d rather avoid making contact altogether.
So to those overly cautious men who think they’re doing the right thing, allow me to say: just because you are in the presence of the opposite sex does not mean that you need to sexually harass them. Yes, there are definitely false accusations that happen. There are definitely women (and men) out there who take advantage of the situation. But that’s not the problem here. Weinstein isn’t an anomaly. For every woman making false accusations, there are infinite examples of men in power harassing and assaulting women, only to have their actions swept under the rug.
Men, if you don’t know how to work with your female colleagues, learn how. We’re not going anywhere. As for what not to do? Don’t ask your female colleagues to sleep with you. Don’t ask them to shower with you or watch you sleep. Don’t ask them to give you a massage while you’re naked. Don’t ask them to watch you masturbate. Don’t set up work meetings that you hope will lead to hooking up. Don’t send lewd, unwanted text messages in the middle of the night. Don’t touch their body; it’s not yours. Don’t be a jerk. If you’re a man in power, assure employees that they’re safe. Promise them that their best interest will always be your priority and keep your word. At home, teach your sons to be better. Remind your male friends to be better.
And you, don’t forget you need to be better too.
Vivian Giang is a business writer on workplace trends, women-focused industries, technology and the human brain…and whatever else she finds interesting about work and play.
You can find her on twitter @vivian_giang