Male executives, it is a good thing that you are re-examining your own behavior when it comes to sexual harassment. But you have only scratched the surface on gender issues.
An NPR poll recently reported that 87% of Americans favor zero tolerance on sexual harassment in the workplace. With mind-numbing rapidity, new allegations appear. Organizations like Guess, the Humane Society, the UN, CBS, the American Red Cross, the Metropolitan Opera, the California State Legislature and the US House of Representatives have all been in the headlines for sexual harassment charges IN THE PAST WEEK. These are the high profile examples that are making the news. We never hear about the silent majority of cases, where harassers are in small companies, agriculture and the hospitality industry.
OK, Mr. Clean Conscience Executive, congratulations! You are not guilty of sexual harassment in the workplace, nor have you actively covered up somebody else’s misdeeds. But there is a wide gap between being a criminal and being a Neanderthal who misses the opportunity to fully motivate the 50% of your workforce who are women. I am not using the term “Neanderthal” to be flippant. I am indicating that if you fit the description, you are about to be made extinct. Sexual harassment makes a person feel unsafe in the workplace. Gender inequality makes a person feel unvalued. And it can be socially driven as well as financially. Harassment and inequality both cost your company dearly. So, let me ask you ten questions, Mr. Clean, based on real-life situations many of us have faced but have been too oblivious to act upon.
Enabling sexual harassment:
· Are you as ignorant of competitive activity in the marketplace as you are of sexual harassment by peers in your company?
· If you suspected sexual harassment by peers, would you address it as quickly as you would about suspicions of other activities that could damage your company?
· Would you escalate your response if you thought you got a bullshit answer?
Fostering a climate of gender inequality:
· Why did your new female Legal VP come in at the lower third of the salary band, while your new male VP of Finance makes more than his predecessor?
· When you are interviewing two qualified people for a position, do you assume that the woman will have her career path interrupted by parental responsibilities, but the man will not?
· Do you assume that the only woman on your executive team is also the only Myers Briggs “F?”
· When you organize a fishing trip for your leadership team, have you invited the women who are team members?
· Do you make women on your team feel like tokens by asking, “How do you feel about this, as a woman?” Would you ask an African American or Jewish executive the same question?
· In meetings, are you ignoring a female manager’s comments or talking over them in a way you would not do with her male counterparts?
· Are women attributing their strong ideas to male colleagues, in order to have you accept them?
Sexual harassment is an offense that deserves to be put in the spotlight. But the more subtle issue of workplace gender inequality will continue to lurk in the shadows.
Executive Springboard President Steve Moss shares learning from years as an executive and a mentor.