Ending sexual harassment in the workplace: a primer

This pattern of women coming forward to expose incidents of sexual harassment and assault in their respective industries has had the beneficial effect of kicking off a national conversation seeking solutions. Unfortunately, that conversation doesn’t seem to be going very well. Assuming we accept the fact that these things are going on in many, if not most workplaces, the ultimate goal should be simple: stopping it. But how?

Some have made what sound like sensible suggestions. Some of the quickest and easiest would be workplace policies which eliminate situations where men are alone with women in closed off offices and rooms. (Because let’s face it… this is almost always men causing the problem. Maybe not 100% of the time. And yes, I saw Horrible Bosses too. But it’s usually the guys.) If all one on one meetings are held in rooms with open doors and visible to others in the facility, opportunities for abusive and criminal behavior are vastly reduced. Easy peasy, right?

Not so fast. Along comes Linda Hirshman at the Washington Post to explain why your idea is full of holes and probably unconstitutional.

In addition to the whiff of extortion (complain about men? Okay, sister, you get no meetings), there is so much wrong with these “solutions.” First, they would hurt women. Pence’s policy would shut every aspiring female staffer, inquiring journalist or prospective colleague out of opportunities for information, access, deal-making, even just plain, candid advice. Are venture capitalists, as recent reports have suggested, so uninterested in investing in women’s ventures that it would be no loss? And Noah’s superficially neutral proposal triggered a tweetstorm of hilarious takedowns.

As long as we’re shutting down spaces that might contain harassment, The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum tweeted “I suggest they close the Christopher St subway stop, where some dorkus malorkus once flashed me. Ban the 1 2 & 3!” What about two-stall bathrooms, Uber pool rides, the coffee room and closed conference rooms?

At any rate, we do not segregate the victim: Too often, men beat their domestic partners; could the government have a policy forbidding people from living together in private homes? Car theft is a very common kind of theft. Should we forbid leaving the garage?

Much of this part of the argument makes zero sense to me. Or at least it would if the policy was actually one-sided in the fashion Hirshman describes. She seems to feel that it would then only be men taking closed-door meetings with the male boss, disadvantaging female employees. (Tell that to the young men who ran into Kevin Spacey.) Of course, that ties into her next point. Making a policy which applies only to one gender and not the other is almost always going to be illegal. True enough.

So why not have a policy of no closed-door meetings for anyone? Hirshman shoots this idea down also, saying, “Because of the deep sexual divide of the workplace, banning all closed-door meetings would have a disproportionate effect on female workers.”

I honestly don’t even understand what that’s supposed to mean.

We need a solution and it’s probably not going to be perfect. (Clever criminals always find a way around things.) But we can certainly reduce both the opportunities and temptations in the workplace to make such unacceptable and frequently criminal behavior far less common. And answering some of the concerns being raised from the other side of the divide, more openness would also cut down on possible incidents of false accusations.

How often are you discussing something which really demands having the door closed for a one on one meeting? And even in cases where that’s true, could the meeting not be held in a room with with a window or glass door so people could see inside but not hear what’s being said? How about a walk and talk meeting? Or just stepping outside (weather permitting, of course)?

And what does Hirshman propose instead of this? She offers us Cole Porter lyrics with the advice, “Why, Can’t You BEHAVE?”

Seriously? Oh, gee. Why didn’t we think of that? We’ll just tell all the bosses and people in power to stop sexually harassing and assaulting women in the workplace. Problem solved! (/sarcasm)

Look, we’re not talking about a vast number of perpetrators, but you’re going to have to do better than that. Think of the murder rate in Chicago these days. It’s a city of approximately 2,705,000 people. And I’d be willing to bet that at least 2,704,000 of them have never shot anybody. But that’s no consolation to you when one of the remaining 1,000 shows up on your street.

This problem can’t be impossible to solve. In fact, I refuse to believe that finding a solution is nearly as difficult as some are making it out to be. But we’re going to have to stop shooting down every idea someone suggests before they’ve even been attempted.

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Jazz Shaw 5:31 PM on February 04, 2023