Man-Bashing Training

Question:  Do we vilify men in harassment training?   

Think about that for a moment.  Do we use more man-on-woman examples?  (Probably.)  Do we need to change this?  Yes.  Harassment training is for everybody because everybody could harass.  According to a recent poll, one in seven men has experienced harassment at work. So, we can’t ignore men and their experiences just because so many women have similar experiences.

It is possible (and maybe even likely) that we’ve created an environment surrounding harassment training that we’ve alienated men or have come across as attacking them.  If this is the case, we should be criticized.  And, we should do better.  Here’s how I think we can do this:

Know our audience.  Every training should be customized to the workplace.  If the scenarios don’t feel real, the training won’t have an impact.  Because we have men in our workplaces, we can’t exclude their experience (and fear) from our training.  We should address it, and give a workable framework on what we expect from them.

Start with respect.  Often in trainings, I hear the statement, “I can’t even compliment a woman anymore.”  This comment comes from a man, usually over 40, who is sitting with his arms crossed, angry that he even needs to be in the room.  I turn to him and say, “There’s a difference between ‘That dress is very nice on you’ and ‘That dress hugs you in all the right ways.’”  He nods, and if I’m lucky, he chuckles a bit.  I then say, “We’re here to talk about that difference.”  That difference is respect.

For all of you labor lawyers cringing at this, listen up!  We live in a society where respect is under a near constant barrage.  We can’t operate in workplaces where respect and integrity aren’t at the core of what we are.  Without respect, we don’t get innovation.  So, we should make respect the cornerstone of our training. Our employees want respect.  They expect and deserve respect.  Starting our training talking about respect is what we must do.  If every conversation was respectful, we wouldn’t have harassment.

Have diverse examples.  Women-on-women harassment happens.  Men-on-men harassment happens.  So, we should have diverse examples.  Some of my best examples – examples that result in the most discussion – are man-on-man and woman-on-man.  We want to have a discussion and a bit of uncomfortableness.  Because we learn when we experience and are at least a bit uncomfortable, the discussion has any chance to really make a difference.

Use the whole scale of harassment.  Include examples of calling someone “sweetheart” or “man candy.”  Talk about staring, dirty jokes, and racial epithets.  You can talk about kissing, hugging, and even assault too, but ignoring the subtle stuff ignores where most harassment starts.  We don’t want this.

Ask, “what would you do?”  We should put our employees in the uncomfortable position of asking them what they would do.  You may be surprised by the responses.  Then, we should explain what we want them to do.  We don’t have to change their personalities to get between a harasser and his/her victim, but we should at least explain who we want them to tell.

Harassment training should mirror the tone of our workplaces.  It should set expectations and be meaningful for employees and managers.  It should make our employees contemplate their conduct without making them feel bad.

One more point:  Ladies, we don’t get to objectify men at work.  I’ve heard the argument that men have objectified women for a long time, so women should get to objectify men as a matter of fairness or even that they like it (uff da).  But like India has to grow green while we polluted for decades, we have to do the right thing.  We can’t objectify them either.  Enjoy a Magic Mike movie, but you can’t bring the poster into the office.  Ok?

This evening, I get to talk about trends in harassment training.  I’ve very excited (and a more than a bit nervous) about this.  Eliminating man-bashing will be one of the trends along with bystander and civility components, manager focus, and welcomeness elimination.  Any others you think I should talk about?

Photo by Nicholas Green on Unsplash

Overreacting

James Damore is suing Google, alleging the tech giant “systematically discriminates” against conservative white men.  While being both conservative (i.e. political affiliation) and male are protected class statuses in California, it’s not clear to me that Mr. Damore’s case has much merit.  (For Pete’s sake, he claimed women are not biologically capable of being good software engineers.)  Yet, it is a great example of an overreaction and an attempt to halt diversity initiatives nationwide.

Mr. Damore’s lawsuit was predictable.  He told us he was going to bring one.  It is also typical.  Affirmative action programs at colleges were attacked when white applicants were not getting in at the same rate as before.  A Christian sued Ford and its affiliates when the car manufacturer came out in support of gay marriage.  These kinds of lawsuits attempt to scare organizations into worrying that their diversity initiatives may swing too far, launching them head-first into litigation.  They may be effective on occasion, but as a scare tactic, it may be just as effective.

What should HR do? We should follow some of the same advice we’ve been bandying about for decades:

  • Dip into all sorts of candidate pools
  • Seek out affinity groups at colleges and universities
  • Think of churches/temples/mosques as places of worship and potential sources of candidates
  • Post job announcements EVERYWHERE
  • Offer training (maybe even English) to high-potential employees
  • Treat your employees with care
  • Draft policies with care to not affect a particular group
  • Validate selection programs for disparate impact
  • Seek out the opinions of employees of all shapes and sizes, genders, races, religions
  • Accommodate employees without putting up theoretical barriers
  • Acknowledge differences in the workplace and celebrate them
  • Listen

(Please note, this is not an exhaustive list.)  None of these tactics or strategies are discriminatory.  Only hiring women can be.  Setting specific quotas can be.  Only offering benefits for referring minorities or women can be.  We have to be careful and mindful that whenever we use a protected class status as a basis for hiring, we get closer to violating the law even when our intentions are good, moral, and just.

In response to the sexual harassment revelations, the Time’s Up Now group, 50/50 by 2020, pledges to get to 50 percent representation of women in Hollywood by 2020.  There’s a James Damore in Hollywood too.  While I don’t doubt that plenty of women are qualified or over-qualified for positions in Hollywood, the Hollywood version of James Damore is planning his attack.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Employees & Their Pesky Social Media

In my experience, giving the finger to the President of the United States isn’t the worse thing an employee has done on social media.  (Heck, I’ve helped fire people after Charlottesville if you catch my meaning.)  But, the incident of Juli Briskman, her middle digit, and the President’s motorcade illustrates the employer conundrum of employee social media.  Whether you love social media (me) or hate it (lots of people), it is now a factor of every day human resources.  We must deal with it.

Before getting to the meat of employee posts and pics, let’s get three things out of the way. First, employees have no First Amendment right to freedom of speech when working for a private employer.  If Mike declared his love for canned cheese at a dairy facility, Mike’s termination would be lawful. It doesn’t matter where Mike made the declaration – the factory floor or on Twitter – a private employer may take action.  It doesn’t matter that it was Mike’s personal opinion, an employer can simply not like the comment and terminate Mike lawfully.

Second, social media is a 24/7/365 after-work happy hour.  Social media is at work.  It’s used to connect employees, improve relationships with co-workers, and find out more about new job opportunities.  When folks use social media to share their political opinions, complain about a neighbor, or simply rant about a particular product, co-workers learn about these things.  Because we are so connected through social media, those rants, diatribes, or laudatory praise are seen and heard by co-workers just as if they were said at work or happy hour.  This means the post can affect the workplace, it does affect morale, and it can hurt the organization.  There is no “her Facebook is private” or “it was during her off time” argument when employees (or customers or clients) are connected to each other.  Social media is definitely not Vegas.

Third, when a post has to do with the employer itself, taking action gets tricky.  The National Labor Relations Act allows employees to discuss, complain, or rant about working conditions with each other.  They can do this on social media without fear of retaliation.  The rest of this post will deal with employee posts and pictures that have nothing to do with the employer.  If a post has to do with the employer, find your friendly neighborhood employment attorney.  Fast.

If employers can take action when an employee posts something they don’t like, the question then becomes should they.  Some – like the Charlottesville posts – are easy calls.  If someone posts something racist or sexist, the employee has got to go.  I often use the example of Justine Sacco.  Her tweet rightly got her fired, and nearly all of the HR pros, students, and business leaders I speak with agree.

Justine Sacco

However, when an employee posts something, many of the same HR pros, students, and business leaders get nervous.  I use the following hypothetical:

Mike has been a Manager for 11 years.  His work is well respected & his contributions to the company are immeasurable.  Erin is a new Assistant.  She got the job, because her friend, Joe, referred her.  Joe is connected on Facebook with Mike & Erin.

Erin shared a post from her friend criticizing the Women’s March, stating women & “the gays” already have equal rights.  Joe comments on the post that Erin is wrong.  Because Joe commented, Mike sees the post.  Mike is really, really upset.  Mike tells his manager about the post.

When I ask, “What would you do?,” the responses vary from “well, I guess I’d have to fire Erin” to “Couldn’t we just discipline her?”  Sometimes, the response is “Do nothing, an employee gets to be who she is outside of work.”  While this is admirable, it might not always be the best answer.  What if Mike threatens to leave the organization because of the post?  What if Erin rose through the ranks and started making hiring and firing decisions?  Couldn’t her post have an impact on hiring candidates from the LGBTQ community or her involvement in your diversity program?  This is where things get dicey, and employers have to think long and hard about what they are going to do with the Erins of the world.  The right answer will depend on the employer’s culture and tolerance of risk – both legal and reputational.

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • What has or will the effect on the workplace be? How much of disruption will this be?  How much will morale be affected?
  • If a manager made the post, what will the effect be on their employees? Will the post influence or have the appearance of influence over their ability to hire, manage, discipline, and fire employees?
  • Does the post conflict (directly or indirectly) with your mission, vision, or reputation?
  • Does the post violate a policy? For example, confidentiality or harassment policies could be implicated.
  • How many people outside the organization can see it? Will customers or clients see it?
  • If this was posted by a different employee, would we treat this differently?  Why?

These questions, along with all the other questions employers normally go through before disciplining or firing someone, are necessary.  Employers need to see the entire picture.

The next important consideration is consistency.  In the POTUS-middle-finger incident, Ms. Briskman’s employer claimed that her picture of her extending her digit towards the President was lewd and obscene.  Hence, her termination.  However, Ms. Briskman pointed to a “director’s” posting where he called an individual a “forking Libtard ascot” (Shout out to The Good Place.)  Arguably, this post is equally (if not more) obscene and lewd as Ms. Briskman’s finger, but the director was able to keep his job after removing the post.  And, arguably, if the only difference is that Ms. Briskman is a woman and the director is a white male, when then, Ms. Briskman could have a gender discrimination case.  This is exactly why consistency is key.  If you’re going to fire Ms. Briskman, you have to fire the director too.

My friend, Heather Bussing, jokes that you find out about employee bad behavior on social media just as fast as employees run to the cafeteria for free pizza.  It’s true.  When Janine does something controversial on social media, you find out about it quickly.  You may have to deal with it just as quickly.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Happy Birthday, tHRive!

Today is a big day!  Today, tHRive Law & Consulting turns one.  In just the past year:

Human resources and employment law are ever-changing and exciting.  Our work touches nearly everyone, making it incredibly meaningful and challenging.  This is why I love it.  I can’t think of another area of business or law I’d rather be in.

tHRive Law & Consulting made it through one of the most significant milestones of any start-up – the first year.  I could not have done it without the support of so many and the confidence of my HR tribe.  For that, I am eternally grateful.  Thank you!

Now, onto the challenges of year two!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Mr. Damore’s Folly

Yesterday, Google terminated a Googler who wrote a “manifesto” against “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”  This is not surprising.  That said, the belief that Google only did so because of its “politically correct monoculture,” either fails to see the significant problems in the memo or intentionally glosses over them because of the hatred of political correctness.  Either way, we have some things to talk about.

Argh!  Stereotypes

James Damore’s memo has some jaw-dropping gender stereotypes about women (and a few about minorities).  They are more agreeable, women gravitate towards people-issues rather than coding, women don’t measure success the same way men do, women are not as ambitious, among others.  These stereotypes are woefully exaggerated.  Adam Grant, a Wharton Professor of Management and Psychology, wrote a great piece on the studies showing many of the stereotypes Mr. Damore cited and relied upon are not true.

We’ve known for a long time that stereotyping is bad.  It leads to discrimination, and discrimination leads to lawsuits and bad (sometimes really bad) PR.  Retaining Mr. Damore would have meant that Google could be on the hook for any discrimination he could have a hand in whether that discrimination occurred in the past or future.  Since Google (like many other employers) interviews in teams, this is a liability and not a small one.  (Not to mention the significant gender discrimination action Google is currently fighting with the OFCCP… but I digress.)

Argh!  Political Correctness

It is totally okay to dislike political correctness.  It is totally okay to define political correctness as someone telling a half truth or failing to speak plainly.  Political correctness is not using shortcuts – like inappropriate and untrue stereotypes – to make a point.  It is not okay to say that stereotypes are simply true and we should all just “get over it” in the name of ending political correctness.  How Mr. Damore couched his message told his co-workers that they are less than, that they will never be as good as him, that they have a place but it isn’t here.  That is never a message anyone (employee, employer, human) should send.

Everybody

Mr. Damore is right about one thing – an effective workplace has everybody.  The individuals and organizations that buy products and services incorporate everybody, so we should reflect the world around us.  That is what diversity and inclusion initiatives are designed to do, bring and keep everyone into the workplace.  Sometimes, we focus efforts on a particular group that is underrepresented because they are underrepresented.  Sometimes, we mind our own business as to what bathroom people are using.  Sometimes, we make an effort to hear the voices of others.  (Insert “rising tide floats all boats” quote.)  We try to include everybody not only because it is the right thing to do, but it is the best business decision to make.

Mr. Damore’s naiveté (and arguably something else) has gotten in the way of this.  He’s right, we have to make room for conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist, and every other point on the political spectrum.  But we do this because it’s good for business.  Google’s own research shows that teams of different people – different thought processes, different personality types, different genders – make better teams when they work to make sure everyone feels psychologically safe.   We know that having diverse perspectives mean we make better decisions, we develop better products, we do better.

It’s what every employer should be trying to do.

Mr. Damore told Bloomberg that he was fired for advancing gender stereotypes, which he unmistakably did in his memo by stating them as truths.  The correct response was to terminate him.  Mr. Damore told a New York Times reporter that he will likely take legal action over his termination.  Nevermind the fact that there is no such thing as “free speech” in the workplace.

P.S.  I am raising two white men.  I understand the feeling that they might not get to participate in certain activities because they are white boys.  But that is nothing – nothing – compared to the decades, centuries, that women and minorities have been locked or pushed out.  My guys just have more competition.  Competition is truly a capitalist principle.  So, bring it on!

 

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Gratitude & Trust

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a proclamation:  Gratitude breeds trust!  (We’ll see if I survive this post.)

Gratitude encompasses two things – recognition and genuine thanks.  Lots of really good blogs out there talk about practicing gratitude for who you are, what you’ve become, and where you are in life no matter how many lemons life gave you.  This is recognition of you.  I’m talking about the kind of gratitude where you see and appreciate others.

Managers struggle with recognition beyond formalized awards and performance pay structures.  We get that Jamal’s contribution to the team justifies a bigger bonus than Jimmy’s failure to meet basic goals.  These are easy.  The recognition most managers can get better at is seeing every employee for the contribution they bring to the organization outside the confines of the job description.  Yes, we need employees to do their job, but we also need employees to be seen and appreciated so they can raise their voices without fear of being shot down or retaliated against.  We need employees to tell us about problems, possible solutions, where we could do better, and where we should be going.  Compliance has a lot to do with this.

Recognizing an employee means seeing them for who they are, what they contribute to the organization, and genuinely listening to them, good and bad.  It is hard to give constructive feedback when you’re a manager.  It’s even harder when you’re an employee fearful that if you speak up, you could get unwanted attention or worse, lose your job.  But when we recognize employees as their whole selves and not use cogs in an industrial wheel, they are empowered to talk to us.  This kind of recognition doesn’t mean we can’t hold employees to tough standards – we can and in many cases, should – but when we recognize the whole person, that person is more likely to trust us.

Gratitude also involves thanks.  Genuine thanks for the individual’s contribution to a situation or a task.  There are lots of blogs out there that go over what is genuine and what really is a contribution, so I don’t need to delve headlong into that discussion.  What I will say is that genuine thanks is more than a paycheck.  Employees get paid for their work, and their contributions can be recognized, and they feel comfortable in being themselves at work. Authentic expression of thanks will get employers more than a set of employees.  Employers will get dedicated, hardworking partners in the organization’s success (for the most part).

I’m currently working on a couple of different projects that all come down to this principle of recognition and gratitude.  What these employers are doing is building communication practices that draw upon these ideas to make a better workplace for everyone.  (Before you ask, yes, these are employment law related (diversity+inclusion and manager trainings) and not just the “soft” stuff of HR.)  It’s inspiring to see employers trying their darndest to do the right thing and build an employee community based on recognition, genuine thanks, and therefore, trust.

 

Image by Mathieu Barrette available at unsplash.com