Calling out sex pests challenges macho workplaces
The trend naming and shaming of sex pests has taken all sectors by storm
But how far back should be go in outing the sex pests from our early career days?
The #MeToo campaign has taken the lid off the level of sexual harassment that most women, and some men, have experienced in the workplace. Many of the instances reflect an imbalance in power, rooted in gender. Although with 80% of women reporting sexist experiences the volume of outpouring should not be surprising. The perpetrators are, or were, invariably men in senior roles able to influence the direction of the careers of the women involved. Many women were afraid to complain or report them for fear of reprisals. Instead they created an under-the-radar black list and whispered covert warnings behind hands, identifying the sex pests and the severity of their affliction, including which men should be avoided totally, or which men carried an unofficial warning sign. This was before What’s App Groups and Excel spreadsheets.
Many women now feel relieved that they can speak openly about what for some were disturbing or even traumatic workplace experiences that they have buried deep in their pasts. If the man involved has a public profile then the there is a certain satisfaction in naming and shaming, as the balance of power now shifts in their favour as we are seeing in the media.
But outside a sexual trauma, is there any value in outing the creep, who is not a public figure, who put his hand on your leg or bottom in the archive room 30 years ago?
Here are two views on the outing of sex pests.
Focus on the future
Tanja is now a Sales Director in a French aeronautical company. Starting her career in the mid-90s she said sexism was rife in her organisation. Young women were considered fair game for any of the men involved in the business. It was also part of a wider culture where this type of misogynistic behaviour was normalised. She’s not convinced that there is any point calling out sleazy behaviour (distinct from assault) from almost 30 years ago and it’s more productive to focus on the future and supporting women now.
“As the only woman in the room I got more than my share of unwanted sexual advances and general sexism. My VP asked me once if I would be interested in “un cinq à sept” which is a French euphemism for an office affair, which takes place between 1700 and 1900 so those involved can get home to their partners in good time. Today, they call these experiences “micro aggressions” that add to the stress of a high pressure job that men don’t experience and can’t possibly understand. In those days they were a daily workplace hazard that women dealt with as robustly as they could. It was our normal. The men who did this are probably now in their 60s and some are even retired. I’m not sure there is much value to naming and shaming these guys at this point. I just hope they look back with guilt and remorse, although I’m not sure they will. The most important thing for women today is that the culture is changing and they feel secure in filing complaints and can openly seeking help or support.”
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Philippa worked in an order processing department in a UK engineering company in the 80s. She feels strongly that she would like to confront those men and would do so if she saw them, although doesn’t think the level of abuse warrants media outing. She thinks some of the men might even be dead!
“In those days all the order allocation, processing and scheduling staff were male and all the secretaries and admin were women. They had calendars of topless models on the walls. Let’s not forget that was only stopped in the Sun, a mainstream UK tabloid, in January 2015. Walking through the open plan office was like running the gauntlet of banter, leering and lewd comments. One man even told me he liked my bra. It was a hot day and this was pre- AC, so I had left my jacket over my chair and I was wearing a white blouse. I think the outline of my bra must have been slightly visible. Another man asked me of I would have an affair with him. The admin women used to take it in turns to walk through the office to deliver papers – this was before email. I was never so glad to leave a company. If I saw any one of them again, I would have no problem telling them they made my life a living hell. I stopped work for 5 years when my kids were small and it was because of those experiences. They definitely impacted my career choices and made the office a toxic place for me.”
These micro-aggressions which are now being exposed in every sector, are all part of the acts of power and dominance that women are subjected to in their places of work making her experience of the workplace very different to that of a man. What we are seeing is a shift in power where with more professional women, they are less fearful of the consequences of speaking out and up. This is why it is so important for women to have female mentors and role models and how women’s networks can fulfil a really important support function. There is no doubt that men of previous generations should look back and reflect on the damage they did and focus on eradicating these misogynistic cultures if they are still employed.
If your organisation would like a mentoring programme for your female employees – contact 3Plus now!
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