Last Sunday morning I watched with great interest the #TimesUp interview Oprah Winfrey conducted with Reese Witherspoon, Shonda Rhimes, America Ferrera, Natalie Portman, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kathleen Kennedy, and Nina Shaw.
Since the segment aired, I've been noodling on a question Ms. Winfrey asked the panel.
"Do men need relearning?"
Ms. Ellis Ross's answer was that the current "environment" supports a culture of harassment in the forms of, by way of example, humor and compliments. Ms. Ellis Ross also noted that inappropriate behavior "supports" sexual assault because of the confusion about where the line can be drawn.
In my experience, Ms. Ellis Ross is correct. Generally speaking, the law prohibits "sex harassment," which has a legal definition, but not merely inappropriate behavior, often defined and described by courts as "boorish." For obvious reasons, courts are reluctant to draw bright lines, which leaves corporate American with shades of grey.
This is an area where there is ample room for change at the corporate level. Companies, from film studios to fast-food restaurants, need to adopt and enforce policies that prohibit "inappropriate behavior" (from a social standpoint) and not just "sex harassment" (from a legal standpoint).
How will they know if they're getting it right? Employ third parties, preferably attorneys, to conduct climate surveys and audits to see what's really going on in the workplace, and hold upper management accountable for the results and the solutions.
And, we need to be mindful of and incorporate common
sense into the dialogue. Telling a woman that she "looks nice today" shouldn't be confused with a comment that her "ass looks good in those pants." Tapping someone on the shoulder to get her attention shouldn't be confused with placing a hand down her blouse.
My response to Ms. Winfrey is that everyone, not just men, could use some "relearning" on the subject of appropriate versus inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
My final thought, which by my nature must include something tongue-in-cheek, is this, for which I can't take credit because it was suggested to me by someone else---if you aren't sure that what you're about to do, say, or show someone in the workplace is appropriate, ask yourself these two questions:
1. Would I do, say, or show it to THE ROCK, aka Dwayne Johnson? and
2. Would I do, say, or show it to my mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, aunt, spouse, or spiritual leader?
If the answer to either question is "no," then you should close your mouth and keep your hands, pictures, texts, etc. to yourself.