We need to stop tolerating the intolerable

by | Nov 24, 2017

Sexual harassment needs to be stopped by men and women alike

Sexism and sexual harassment are a global preoccupation at the moment. But we have to take concrete steps to stop tolerating the intolerable.

As the news about sexual harassment continues to dominate the headlines, there is a global preoccupation with the emerging salubrious details. Who did what to whom, when and what's going to happen now? The reality is that we are asking the wrong question about sexual harassment. We mainly focus on who has experienced sexism and sexual harassment. But because it is so widespread wouldn't it be quicker and easier to establish the reverse? Who hasn't experienced sexism or sexual harassment? The answer would be almost no women at all.

Accepting the unacceptable

I come from a generation where groping hands, inappropriate comments and lewd leers were par for the course for women in the workplace. We were the first band of "career girls". We were fighting a hard battle to make our way in male coded and dominated workplaces with sexist corporate cultures.  I am not talking about casting couch activities, although I am sure that was the experience of many, but the daily grind of having to navigate the challenges of toxic male cultures. As women we learned and communicated which men to avoid in the lift or the photo copy room. But by not calling it out, we enabled all activities. We had an informal black list and coded language which is still found today in politics and Hollywood.

sexism and sexual harassment


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But we were caught between a rock and a hard place. Who would we have called any sexism and sexual harassment out to? Men at the time did not identify the behaviour as wrong or unacceptable. It was their norm too. And women? There were few women champions and those that were there were in the "suck it up and get on with it, they don't mean anything by it" brigade.

We could have resigned and gone elsewhere - but it would have been part of that company's culture too.  Sexism and sexual harassment was everywhere. We would have jumped straight  from the proverbial frying pan into the fire.

Male advocates

And while there is much discussion currently about how men can step up to intervene and make the tolerated intolerable, women have to learn to self-advocate in a class action to be clear that things have to change. If we rely on any one to "protect" us then we are still leaving ourselves exposed and vulnerable. Men should not be condemning this because they are husbands and fathers but because they are men and it is not right.

Gender imbalance reflects an unequal distribution of power between men and women which is embedded in our wider and corporate cultures. Can you imagine if the situation was reversed?

It's about time we start dealing with it as soon as possible.

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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.
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