By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
So long to 2017, the year of men behaving badly and women realizing that it’s OK to call them on it.
It started with the inauguration of the most boorish president in history and ended with some of most sensational, power-brokering sexual misconduct in modern times. “Harvey Weinsten” is no longer just a name; it now has a place in the dictionary. And, it should be subject, verb and predicate for future employee manuals.
The American workplace needed to be reminded of its Weinstein tendencies (adjective intended). Sexual harassment is costing businesses big money in legal costs, production output, lost time and distraction. It’s about time bosses acted upon the topic with seriousness, employees paid attention and everyone kept their hands, thoughts and perverted proclivities to themselves.
Harassment has come of age. Actually, it’s gotten old. No longer can powerful, abusive men be shielded by their glass towers. No longer is the simple off-color joke or innocent touch among coworkers acceptable. What we once brushed off as a part of doing business can lead to corporate chaos and, sadly, ruined lives.
Weinstein (the man, not the grammar) brought new attention to an issue that was around long before the Hollywood studios. Yet, it took a few brave souls to shake a tree with many branches. The resulting rain down has collapsed the careers of titans of industry, music, movies, politics and media. Generally, the attention has been on the most sordid conduct involving the biggest names. But, the curtain can be drawn back on almost anyone who tries to force their will upon others. It’s now OK to talk about it.
The likes of Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, et al, may be topic du jour, but the abuse is hardly a new phenomenon and certainly not limited to moguls. Harassment in and outside of work has been the subject of water cooler talk since the invention of the cooler. So, on that note, perhaps it’s time to toss some water on this problem — and the colder the better.
Training, routine and consistent, is missing in many work spaces, and it’s not taken seriously enough in the places where it is offered.
One such gap is the local statehouse. According to one report, women in at least 16 states have recently accused male state lawmakers of sexual assault or harassment. Until this year, only five of these 16 states — California, Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon and Vermont — required all state lawmakers to attend regular anti-harassment training, according to a Stateline survey of legislative research and leadership offices. Illinois is among those states now scrambling to address the subject.
The federal government also is tripping over itself trying to duck the next Roy Moore. These scandals, salacious as they may be, threaten the very ability of our government to enact policy. So divided is our democracy that one elected official can swing the vote. When it comes to things such as health care, tax reform, immigration and judicial appointments, that vote affects all us. Yet, I fear we’re only seeing the beginning of how prurient politics is going to impact the functioning of government at all levels.
To the extent that any of the above allegations rises to the level of criminality, I say bring on the prosecution. And remember that any untoward conduct involving nonconsenting adults is serious to those who are being victimized, whether it’s criminal or not. And, whether it’s in the workplace or not.
People have enough problems finding good jobs, and businesses have enough problems finding quality workers, without throwing harassment into the mix. If it took the Weinstein era to get us to take seriously our responsibilities, so be it. No woman, no man, should be asked for sexual favors in return for consideration of any sort. No one should be put through unwanted abuse, in or outside the office. Those days must come to an end.
Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or (618) 977-6865.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH