Monday, November 13, 2017

Speaking Up About Harassment in the Workplace

The workplace has recently been thrown into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Sadly, harassment of all kinds is front and center, especially after the revolting sexual harassment of the likes of Weinstein and Cosby, to name but a few. The emotional and mental stress endured by so many hardworking men and women in the workplace today is shameful. The headlines in both print and broadcast media are filled with news about the injustices that run rampant in the workplace today.

One of the most important ways to make a real change in this situation is by supporting a conversation among all stakeholders, encouraging as many perspectives as possible to come forward and debate civilly. The time has finally come when normalizing the abnormal and unacceptable needs to come to an end. Participating in open dialogues about subjects where differing opinions abound, such as the myriad political and social worlds, is a real challenge for many of us.

It’s important to keep a realistic perspective in focus for our children. Protecting children from the cruelties of life is a natural instinct. However, I see a great opportunity for us to teach our children and one another how to engage in healthy, age appropriate discussions.  I received this message from my sister today that expresses my thoughts.

“Another word on this matter... not to be a downer, but a realist... and maybe even an instigator to action. I said yesterday that these shootings have put me in touch with a part of me that grew up under the shadow of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. As a child I felt that not my parents, not my teachers, not our leaders could keep me or us safe. But no one talked about it. I certainly didn't. But I felt it. I carried it. Unspoken. In fear. In worry. In helplessness. That is trauma to a child; make no bones about it. “

 “Fast forward to today. How many children are walking around feeling as if they are not safe? That the adults can't keep them safe? And to add insult to injury, with complete inaction on the part of the leaders in this country, just imagine how hopeless children might feel about the whole situation. Is this what we want for our children? If ever there was a time - PLEASE do not be complacent on this issue. Our children are watching and counting on us.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Most of us have been able to sit on the sidelines as bystanders for a very long time. Unfortunately, this apathy has become our comfort zone. We need to reengage with our own lives and with our own communities. The courage required to come forward is considerable. As more and more people do take that brave and responsible first step, they clear an open path for other people to do the same.

Opportunities abound to bring greater emotional awareness and intelligence into the workplace. Exposing injustices and inappropriate behaviours is a good place to begin. Expressing respect for each other is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, this culture of respect and of living our lives authentically is only a glimmer of hope for most people. Primarily because of the fear of retribution, most people do not come forward. Fortunately, there is a growing number of people who act independently or join movements such as #MeToo.

There is no doubt that the exposing of toxic work cultures within corporations is difficult. However, there is momentum building, pushing people to do the right thing and embrace diversity and inclusivity. That same momentum will also give us all a voice we have kept silent for too long. With practice, we will develop civil discourse, where disagreements develop healthier perspectives rather than create adversaries.


If you are experiencing harassment of any kind while at work, I strongly encourage you to speak up. Organizations are taking harassment, especially sexual harassment, very seriously. These horrible behaviours are not gender specific, nor are they industry specific. They are pervasive throughout the workplace at large. Would we not want to leave to our children a world in which the workplace does not tolerate harassment, and that if it rear its ugly head, there was a support system in place to assist? Perhaps teaching our children by example might be a great place to begin.