The most troubling part of the recent sexual harassment revelations is that they happened.
We are deeply saddened by the constant parade of allegations and the deep pain being surfaced and resurfaced for so many. No one should feel threatened or demeaned at work. No one should be intimidated by sexual acts. No one should suffer in years of silence, humiliation, and shame because they were scared into doing something they regret by someone more powerful.
The Second Most Troubling Part of all this Sexual Harassment
For us, the second most troubling part of all these sexual harassment stories is that other people knew what was going on, and did nothing.
In the case of Matt Lauer, while we can’t know for certain what happened, victims report having informed management at the time (NBC management maintains no current executives were aware of past reports and they acted immediately once they were). Many of the other recent revelations (e.g. Charlie Rose, Louis CK) were followed by bystanders saying they were aware at some level and chose to stay silent.
It’s not just celebrities.
It’s “Steve,” a manager who observes his boss verbally harassing women on his team, yet stays silent. And, “Jane” who tells the “girls” on her team to “just ignore” the inappropriate touching, “It’s no big deal. Let it go.” Or the co-workers who know John is sick of the homophobic jokes, but just ignore their peer’s banter, because John does too.
“Unless someone like you, cares a whole awful lot.
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
-The Lorax, Dr. Seuss
We understand the fear that keeps people silent. Often, saying something means risking your career or reputation.
So does staying silent.
You can’t lead without trust. Staying silent or refusing to treat these situations seriously tells your team you can’t be trusted – not when it really matters. You undermine your credibility and erode team unity.
We don’t need another policy. Most human beings know right from wrong.
We need courage.
We need to build cultures where speaking the truth is not only tolerated, but encouraged.
We need leaders to lead. To take a stand, even when it’s hard. To recognize that choosing self-protection over what’s right is exactly what perpetuates inexcusable behavior, degrades trust, and permanently damages relationships and results.
It’s going to take all of us to end this epidemic of harassment and distrust.
What will you do next time?