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What a 3 Year Old Can Teach Us About Stopping Unwanted Harassment

You have to be living under a rock to have not noticed that 2017 is the year where just about every media vehicle available for communication is running multiple stories daily on sexual harassment, sexual assault and, sadly, rape. A virtual tidal wave of allegations in just about every industry hits the news, multiple times, daily.

Religion. Hollywood. Media. Politics. Business. Education. Refugees. And it’s global.

#meToo is now a social global and numerically frightening phenomenon of women and men posting #meToo to announce that they have been victims of some form of unwanted sexual attention – and what of those that didn’t post preferring to live with their story in silence for reasons of their own? I didn’t post but man, do I have some stories!

If we want to solve for “X” and “X” equals stopping all of this sexual aggression primarily targeted to women and children, what would the formula look like?

For me it would start with education. Whether it’s science or culture (and we don’t have precision yet on which has more influence), I’d definitely start with the cultural change that could be made through education of both men and women.

When my now-adult daughter was 3, she attended Montessori school. Montessori, a long-standing and very well-proven teaching method that has been around since the 1800’s, focuses on the life skills needed both in and outside of the classroom. I had sent my daughter to Montessori School because I wanted her to be a strong and independent person. I wanted her to be free to express herself; to be a leader if that was her natural inclination; to speak up respectfully and right injustice or other problems in the world in whatever line of work she would chose as an adult; to teach her during the day, what her father and I would continue to reinforce at home when she was with us and not in school. Both her father and I worked as CEOs.

One of these skills taught in the classroom at Montessori is to respectfully ask other children to be respectful of boundaries and not touch you if you don’t want to be touched.

One day at a small birthday party, a grandfatherly-man grabbed my then 3-year-old, put her on the floor and started tickling her. She immediately wiggled free, stood up, looked him right in the eye and said “Excuse me. This is my body. Please don’t touch it.”

The room silenced.

I was horrified.

My staunchly English upbringing was screaming out that I needed to “fix” this tense situation of a child asking an adult, who was now babbling to me about not being a pedophile, to not touch her. Culturally I had been trained that children should be seen and not heard. I wanted so much to make the man in front of me “comfortable” in this uncomfortable situation.

I imagined her moving into her teenage years listening to what I might have said at that moment to “fix” the room’s discomfort, when she was getting inappropriate advances from others – men or women. Did I want my words ringing in her ears “It’s ok honey, he/she is just playing”? “It’s ok honey, put your needs to be left alone behind the needs of those who touch you unasked?”

My response to the room?

“She asked you not to touch her, so you need to honor her request”.

Two short sentences – one by a 3-year-old and one by her mom – changed her life although she was probably blissfully unaware that there was ever any other choice than speaking up respectfully about something you don’t like (which she does to this day!)

Ask yourself what you would have done if you were 3 and/or if you were me. And then ask yourself, “can we culturally make change through education to this environment we live in where costly inappropriate sexual advances are headline news not to mention life-damaging for the victims?

The resounding answer is YES. If a 3-year-old can learn to do it with the support of those around her, you can too.

Gender Inequality in Business is NOT Generational – witness UBER.

Recently I conducted a Genderversity™ training session in a large international technology firm. In the audience was a confident female Gen-Yer who was considered a leader within the company, and she stated the following: “… in my opinion, gender inequality and sexual harassment is just a generational issue”. She went on to say that sexual harassment and discrimination were a thing of the past in her generation (that is to say anyone born after 1990). When probed as to why she thought this way, she added that it was the older business men who have been accused of several counts of sexual harassment and discrimination (and when you think of some of today’s headline news, Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly, and Bill Cosby would be considered “old” by her definition). She believed that the businessmen in her generation and in coming generations behave differently around women than their predecessors. In her mind the mistakes made in previous generations regarding inappropriate sexual behavior had since been mitigated.

A laudable argument, but objectively incorrect.

The meltdown of Uber - the most successful technology start-up ever, with an estimated market valuation of $40 billion based on a recent Inc. Magazine report - indicates that sexual harassment is clearly NOT a generational issue. The median age of an employee in tech-related companies is only 30 years old (based on a study from PayScale) - technically millennials. Uber is a millennial company; has millennial leadership; and millennials are the most enthusiastic Uber adopters according to Felim McGrath of the globalwebindex.

Uber has been the subject of extreme public scrutiny lately due to several instances that indicate a toxic corporate culture for women, throughout the entire Uber organization. Indeed, in February of 2017 Uber brought in the heavy-hitters to help solve their sexual harassment problems by hiring former U.S Attorney General Eric Holder (can’t even begin to imagine what that cost but “A” for effort right?)

To give an indication at how deep the problem runs, witness David Bonderman, an Uber board member who, in the midst of a June announcement of the findings from a sweeping sexual harassment investigation, made a joke about gender stereotypes, adding even more fuel to claims of a toxic culture. He resigned within the week.

We have no idea of the direct economic cost yet of settling Uber’s sexual harassment lawsuits (although personally I would advise the CFO to put a big, fat, liability accrual on the balance sheet; Uber, and other companies who operate like them are sure going to need it). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that American companies paid out $40.7 million in 2016 alone to remedy charges of sexual harassment, meaning these were payments to women who went to HR to report incidents and were largely ignored.

With the ever-growing media focus on women and women’s issues (including but not limited to sexual harassment, pay gaps, etc.) companies must make gender inclusion and diversity a strategic imperative. The result of this would lead to the prevention of sexual harassment and discrimination claims (and therefore the multi-million dollar payouts), all of which negatively affect profitability.

You can “hope” that what happened at Uber is not happening where you work. You might not see a sexual harassment lawsuit, but the facts point out that many companies will. 1 in 3 women report being sexually harassed in the workplace, the EEOC reports that 74% of all claims to them come from women, and largely involve sexual harassment.

“Hope” is not a strategy. A proactive approach to gender and diversity inclusion is a strategy and is necessary to properly address sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

If you feel that gender diversity is not a priority in your workplace, Genderversity™ is here to help. Please contact us for more information.