You think I’m joking? I’m not joking. Have you heard about the harassment and discrimination that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has been subjected to by fellow members of the Senate? While working out at the congressional(?!) gym, one of Gillibrand’s colleagues commented, “good thing you’re working out because you wouldn’t want to get porky.” Sounds like something my grandmother would say. Wait, no, it is something my grandmother has said. PAUSE. To me (I’m not overweight!!!). Apparently, grandmothers (or at least mine) are exempt from discrimination and harassment training. Therefore, I can only assume that the grandmothers of the world must have united to create Congress’ harassment and discrimination training. What other plausible explanation could there be for Gillibrand’s preposterous encounter? (read: sarcasm).
But, you know, it actually makes sense when I think about it. Perceptions of what constitutes harassment and discrimination seem to be largely generational. My grandmother, for example, sees nothing wrong with pinching my torso every time I see her. I’m sure to her she thinks that her once-per-year pinching is very valuable and without her generous little fingers I would have no idea if I were gaining weight. Thank you, grandma. My mother, on the other hand, never pinches me. Likewise, the men who made comments about Gillibrand’s weight were, according to her, “well into their 60s, 70s or 80s… they had no clue that those are inappropriate things to say….”
In the other op-ed pieces I’ve read on Gillibrand’s experience, the authors are rebuffed that the Senator has not revealed her harassers – saying they “deserve to be shamed.” My immediate thought was maybe they really haven’t received ongoing discrimination and harassment training. Yes, the comments they made seem to be obvious harassment to you and me, but we can’t discount the generational difference. If they have not been explicitly told or trained on harassment and discrimination, maybe they really don’t know. Innocent until proven guilty, right? This is ‘merica!
Are members of Congress made to take harassment and discrimination training? If not, it’s clear that its needed… but maybe Congress is to harassment and discrimination training, as preacher’s kids are to behaving. At our Atlanta Compliance Exchange last month, one compliance professional admitted that in her 7 years at her company she had not received training once… not ONCE! So clearly Congress is not the only organization failing here.
Annie Lowrey of the New York Magazine has created an outstanding flow chart that we can all incorporate into our harassment and discrimination training. It may come off as condescending in the context it is given – ie. Lowrey comments that she has created it to “help these civic-minded geniuses understand when it is appropriate to comment on a woman’s physical appearance…” but some of the points she brings up are gray areas and not as obvious as you might think. Take for example complimenting a colleague who has lost weight. I’m positive I’ve done that before – most of us probably have. And, while I think in the majority of these instances the recipient of the compliment is flattered, there could also be situations where it makes him or her feel uncomfortable. Lowrey draws the line and makes an easy decision for us:
Question: Should I comment on a colleague’s body if she lost weight?
Women leaders on Diversity Inc provide additional guidelines to help keep our colleagues out of trouble at work:
9 Things NOT to Say to Women Coworkers
1. Terms of Endearment – Even if you consider your female coworkers your friends, do NOT call them “sweetie”, “hun”, etc. Women in the workplace are professionals and should be treated as such
2. “You’ve lost weight” or “You look so much better” (see they say it, too!)
3. Any kind of sexual comment
4. “Is it that time of the month?” or “She’s so emotional”
5. “You aren’t as aggressive with your subordinates as you should be. You need to be more forceful and tougher” – these types of comments could be construed as sexist or discriminatory, as they imply that a woman needs to be more like a man when she manages.
6. “You only got the job because you’re a woman” – this too would be considered harassment, because it implies that a woman has excelled in her career because of her gender instead of professional qualifications.
7. “Do you really want that promotion? You’ll never see your kids.”
8. “You do that so well for a girl” – Making a comment like this, even jokingly, implies that women are inferior to men and could land you with a gender discrimination lawsuit.
9. “Are you pregnant?” or “When are you due?” – I think most of us shy away from these questions in general, however, if you are inclined to ask… don’t!
When planning for discrimination and harassment training, companies must keep in mind the make-up of their workforce and how those employees digest information. If we have a multi-generational workforce we need to ensure that our harassment and discrimination training is distributed in a way that is digestible to everyone. Older generations are historically give more motivated by messages that come from top executives – so maybe consider including a harassment and discrimination message from your CEO. Whatever you decide is the best solution for your organization, it is imperative that we take proactive measures to ensure our employees don’t experience what senator Kirsten Gillibrand has had to face. And, no, waiting for the baby boomer generation to retire does not count as a proactive measure.
For More Information On Discrimination And Harassment Training, Check Out These Resources:
- Blog: Discrimination And Harassment Training A Necessity In Male Dominated Industries
- Blog: If Tinder Had A Corporate Compliance Training Program, CMO Might Still Be Dateable
- Blog: Crazy Harassment And Discrimination Stats: Protect Your Company From The 234 Million Dollar Beast
Infographic | The State Of Harassment & Discrimination In The Workplace
Harassment and discrimination issues can lead to millions of dollars in losses for an organization. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions (EEOC) obtained the highest amount of monetary recoveries in agency history in 2013, despite the overall number of harassment and discrimination charges decreasing from 2012. This increase in settlements shows that while fewer cases are being filed, fines are getting larger and regulations are getting stricter.