Almost daily, we are faced with new reports of longstanding harassment in the entertainment industry, journalism and politics. The harassment stems far beyond sexual acts and harassment to include physical aggression, public shaming and significant retaliation.
It would be misleading (and irresponsible) for those “on the outside” of this very public situation to somehow characterize it as “different from” the dynamics closer to home. As someone who routinely investigates complaints of misconduct, harassment and bullying, I know too well that the issues facing Hollywood are festering in many of our own corporate boardrooms, staff lunchrooms and administrative offices.
While we may be inclined to “distance ourselves” from the Hollywood Harassment, we should instead step closer to it. We need to better understand it and its implications within our own organizations. How was it allowed to happen? How was it allowed to continue? In what ways might we have contributed to it, perhaps unknowingly or inadvertently, through our actions or inaction?
The Similarities between Hollywood and Home
- Even in “respectful” workplaces, there are a handful of individuals who behave very inappropriately towards others. This may include sexual or racial harassment. It might involve intense control, silencing aggression or intimidation. It may relate to self-serving and generally unethical decision-making in relation to hiring, firing and other critical matters involving the organization.
- This is not a secret. Everyone within the organization, leaders and staff alike, know who these individuals are, often by name. They include powerful leaders, technical geniuses, top sales people and notable experts within certain academic and professional workplaces.
- Because of their apparent charm/charisma, “sought after” skill, profit making abilities or public notoriety, they are repeatedly excused from meeting the expected norms and standards of workplace respect, civility and professional accountability.
- New team members are socialized “early on” not to complain about these individuals because of “who they are” and the potential “repercussions” that could follow.
- Those who come forward often find their experiences are minimized or dismissed. They are told “well, that’s just so and so”, “that’s just how they are – they’ve always been like that” or “don’t take it personally, it happens to everyone”. Their complaints are not investigated properly – or at all.
- High performers leave these workplaces to find positions elsewhere – in better, safer environments. Those with fewer options stay and cope but increasingly become disengaged and demoralized. Others get sick – physically and/or mentally – and are simply unable to continue working.
Hollywood Harassment and Our Workplaces: Next Steps
- Given the publicity surrounding the Hollywood Harassment, and the increasing support for complainants to come forward (through the #metoo campaign and otherwise), workplace leaders should expect to receive similar complaints regarding individuals within their organizations.
- Like those raised in the Hollywood Harassment, these complaints will include concerns about two distinct groups: those alleged to have engaged in unethical or unlawful behaviour and those alleged to have been aware of such behaviour yet did nothing about it.
- Complaints that come forward should be investigated properly, objectively and in a timely manner. While it is important to take action to end misconduct and disrespect, it is also critical to ensure that such action is rooted in an objective, fair and defensible process.
- Every individual needs to be interviewed – complainants, accused, witnesses, bystanders – that is, anyone who may have been directly/indirectly involved in the situations of concern.
- Each person should be asked about “what they saw or knew at the time” and “what they did about it”.
It is easy to read news of the Hollywood Harassment and then “distance” ourselves from the named aggressors – those flashy, rich, successful and powerful people “out there”. Please don’t. The very same behaviour may be happening right down the hall. And it needs to stop.
– Marli Rusen
Marli’s online video training on conflict resolution and respectful workplaces.