Utah continues to reel from the aftershocks of workplace sexual harassment allegations. Last week it was Sandy Police Chief Kevin Thacker. Also last week? The Davis County Sheriff’s Department. This comes on the heels of the former Provo Police Chief John King scandal in Provo, which followed the allegations against Utah County Commissioner Greg Graves. All in all, 2018 has been a year of reckoning for sexual harassment in Utah, in line with the national #metoo wave.
Allegations like these affect our communities profoundly. They incite change, as they should. And they usually come with growing pains, as they should.
One common growing pain is some people (often men) wondering if this backlash against sexual harassment has gone too far—perhaps the constant threat of sexual harassment allegations will chill workplace friendships. This sentiment was articulated by Sandy City Councilman Steve Fairbanks, who mused after Thacker’s firing, “I just worry that the overall, the #metoo kind of movement, could end up being damaging to the overall [morale] to our employees…. It seems to be difficult for men and women to have any sort of relationship at all without something like this either occurring or being alleged to have occurred.”
To those men I say:
First, well done. Taking sexual harassment allegations seriously requires self-reflection on your own past and present conduct. Do you treat the women in your office differently than the men? If so, how? And why? Examining one’s own conduct is the first step toward eradicating workplace sexual harassment. If you feel threatened when someone else is accused, that’s probably a good thing. Instead of feeling dismissive, dig into that uncomfortable feeling and reflect on where you can improve.
Secondly, well done. If you feel the rules of the game are changing and you want to know what they are, this means that you are trying to do the right thing moving forward. It can seem overwhelming to get a straight answer on what is and isn’t inappropriate workplace behavior, as all workplaces have their own unique culture. To be honest, the rules have not changed. The only thing that might need to change is your behavior. Commit now to making your workplace a more comfortable environment for people who are at the social margins.
Third, well done. If your instinct is that men and women should not stop being friends at work, you are correct! This is even more important for women than it is for you: women are often in the minority in workplaces—especially in leadership positions—and cannot professionally afford to be blackballed out of workplace culture. Reject the Mike Pence notion that you cannot eat alone with a woman who is not your wife. Their professional success depends on your mentorship, collegiality, and support.
If you still feel troubled that you may accidentally sexually harass someone you work with, here are a few guidelines:
- Be aware of and respect others’ personal space. In most workplaces, bodily contact shouldn’t be necessary, unless you’re like, posing for a picture or something. As for shoulder rubs or leg touching, that’s a hard pass. Don’t touch anyone in a way that will cause them to discuss it after the fact.
- “Is it okay to give a hug at work?” Well, why are you hugging them? You see these people every day. Unless someone is leaving for good, or is celebrating a major life event, a hug is probably unnecessary. You should not be hugging your coworkers on a regular basis.
- Be aware of the language you use at work, and keep it respectful. If you don’t want to be accused of sexual harassment, don’t make jokes about women. Don’t make jokes about sex. Don’t discuss your or anyone else’s sex life. Hold yourself to the same standards of speech regardless of whether a woman is or is not present. And when someone else crosses a line, don’t just let it slide. Be willing to stand up and say something.
- Be aware of the power imbalances in your relationship to your coworkers. Usually, it’s fine to date someone you work with. But if you date someone you supervise, that’s a red flag. No one should enter a relationship with the possibility that they could face professional repercussions if the relationship ends. If you’re a good guy and you want to date a subordinate, get them transferred (but not demoted)—they shouldn’t be reporting to you and dating you.
- Coworkers can flirt and sometimes fall in (and out of) love. It’s cool! But no means no. If you make a pass and your person doesn’t reciprocate, leave it! Get rid of the idea that women want to be “chased” until they finally give in. Date someone who can articulately say that they want you. It’s sexier, I swear.
- When in doubt, it helps to abide by The Rock Test, created by Anne Victoria Clark. Treat your female coworkers like they were Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It’s a surefire way to not be accused of sexual harassment.