I’ll tell you right now — writing this particular column petrifies me. Unlike my past columns, which are mostly non-controversial, this one has a little something to offend nearly everyone if they try hard enough. But that’s why the CVC is hosting Community Conversations, constructive dialogue about difficult subjects. We’re tackling hard topics in a way that makes it safe for people to share their experiences without fear of judgement or reprisal.
As I’ve mentioned in this column multiple times, civility seems to be a rare commodity today. We (and I ashamedly include myself in that pronoun) are quick to judgement, quick to accuse and even quicker to silence, dismiss or shut down those with opinions different from our own.
How many of us have unfriended or stopped interacting with someone whom we’ve been friends with (or related to) forever just because we don’t agree with their stance on a subject? How is that OK? Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Whatever happened to being able to discuss those differing stances in an effort to understand, not to pummel them into agreeing with you? Worse, just dismissing them outright and walking away forever? That’s sad.
So I ask for understanding if not agreement when I talk about our next subject for Community Conversations — harassment in the workplace, especially after the #metoo movement.
I really can’t think of any woman I know of a certain age who hasn’t been harassed at one time or another. Not necessarily in their workplace but certainly at any place where alcohol is being consumed. That harassment ranges from having their bottom grabbed to being propositioned repeatedly by a drunk idiot. Fortunately for me, it’s never escalated to threatening behavior.
In the workplace, though, the power dynamic is so different. I was talking with a couple people last spring about #metoo and one of them declared that women just needed to confront harassers to make it stop. However, the other friend pointed out that when the harasser is someone who has the power over your career stability and trajectory, all bets are off.
The good news is that in many organizations, a lot has happened to proactively address harassment at work. Consistent trainings, role-playing opportunities, clear expectations for behavior, widely identified channels for complaints, follow-through on complaints and other measures have been implemented in many companies and service industries.
Unfortunately, as with all things, sometimes the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. Because of the increased focus on punishing accused harassers, many men are overcorrecting. They’re declining to mentor female colleagues, meet with them behind closed doors or go out to lunch or for a drink to discuss business for fear of retaliation. Because there is uncertainty around what constitutes sexual harassment, some men are uncomfortable around female co-workers and wary about how to navigate changing workplace dynamics.
Even more reasons to have Community Conversations about workplace harassment. You don’t have to have been harassed to have an experience worth talking about. Maybe you’re a manager who is fielding complaints. Perhaps you’ve fired someone for harassment. You may have been falsely accused of harassment. Possibly you’ve begun to view your seemingly “harmless” comments to female co-workers through a new lens. We want to hear from you!
Please join us Jan. 24 from 2-5 p.m. or Jan. 26 from 9 a.m. to noon at the hospital’s Community Room at 61 S. Gould St. to share your experiences. No need to sign up in advance, but you’re welcome to call the CVC office to learn more.
We’re going to continue to host Community Conversations and we’re not going to shy away from even more divisive topics. If we can’t come together to talk about the hard stuff in a positive way as a community, there will be lots more metaphorical babies in bathwater being tossed out around here. No one wants to see that.
Amy Albrecht is the executive director of the Center for a Vital Community.