It should be patently obvious by now that sexual harassment is bad for business. It taints your brand, tars the transgressor with a broad brush, drives away dedicated employees, and affects the bottom line.
Well, somewhat more seriously than they have in the past, which is not necessarily saying much. The pattern has typically been to blame the victim, call in the lawyers, destroy the accuser’s reputation in court and move on as fast as possible.
This might be changing, as reported by Katie Benner in the New York Times, “A Backlash Builds Against Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley,” This article ollows Ms. Benner’s previous reporting, “Women in Tech Speak Frankly on Culture of Harassment.” Has this issue reached a tipping point? That remains to be seen.
Paying the Price
Women pay a price for speaking frankly about sexual harassment and the magnitude of that price can be measured by how long it has taken some of these strong, intelligent women to speak up. Ms. Benner tells us that many of the women, “. . . believed they had limited ability to push back against inappropriate behavior, often because they needed funding, a job or other help.” This is, of course, the vulnerability that sexual predators use to get their way.
We should also recognize by now that most businessmen would rather deny, look the other way, gloss over, excuse, blame the victim, or walk right past sexual harassment in the workplace because it makes them uncomfortable. Also, this approach is so much easier than taking action and changing things.
Have We Reached a Tipping Point?
Ms. Benner reports that some start-up investors, are “. . . beginning to strategize over how to avert the episodes in the first place.” Folks, it’s just not that hard. We don’t need detailed strategies, a 5000-word policy, a special department, a designated enforcer or an anonymous tip line.
Below I offer my 10 Rules for Avoiding Sexual Harassment. I invite corporate HR departments and investors worldwide to incorporate them in their company strategies, free of charge.
10 Rules for Avoiding Sexual Harassment
- You are responsible for your own lust.
No female employee is casting a spell on you, enticing you, seducing you or compelling you to do anything. You may feel lust for someone in a business. You may think a woman in your company is sexy. You may think she’s showing off her bust or her legs. You may want to use one of these as an excuse to express your desires. But that does not give you permission to act on your lust. Ever. You’re a grownup: control your actions.
- Keep your hands to yourself.
Women in a business setting are not there to be touched by you in any way. They are also not asking or inviting you to do so. Their bodies are their private property, not your toys. Don’t touch.
- Keep your pants up and zipped.
If you have to use your power and authority to get sex, you don’t have much going for you. Using your power to force a woman to give you sex may make you feel like an alpha dog but it actually says you’re just a sex hound and a loser in the real world.
- Think of female employees as family.
Don’t say—or tolerate any other man saying—something to female employees that you would not want said to your sister, your mother, your daughter or your wife. If it would make you uncomfortable in a family setting it should make you uncomfortable in a business setting.
- Don’t ask a woman to do anything for you that isn’t related to business.
That includes asking her to smile, to touch you, to spend time with you, to have drinks or eat dinner with you or to perform any sexual act whatsoever. Nothing. If it’s not related to business, it’s out of bounds.
- Don’t make any business activity dependent on sexual acquiescence.
Tying a raise, a bonus, a promotion, a round of funding, or a special assignment to the performance of a sex act is not just sexual harassment, it is extortion. That’s a crime. Are you a criminal? Do you want to go to jail?
- Speak up when you hear or see something.
This is a tough one because boys are socialized never to tattle on one another. You suck it up and “take one for the team” if necessary but you never rat out your buddies. Business is not a playing field, however. If you hear another man say something or see him do something that constitutes sexual harassment, take action. To quote David Hurley, former Australian Chief of Defence, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” What standard do you want for your company?
- Don’t hire jerks or creeps.
If a man has been guilty of sexual harassment in a previous company, he will continue that behavior in yours. Don’t expect a serial predator to stop just because he now works for you. Don’t expect HR or his boss to monitor and control him. Use the Myra Kraft rule for hiring. She didn’t want “thugs and hoodlums” playing for the New England Patriots and you don’t want creeps and jerks in your company.
- Think about seeing your actions in print.
Before you say or do something, especially if you’re going to justify it as something you deserve because of your exalted title and position, think about seeing in the newspaper, online, or on TV tomorrow. That just might happen. After all, it has happened to Travis Kalanick of Uber, Dave McClure of 500 Startups, Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital, and Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital. Ditto Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly at Fox News. How would that publicity affect your company, your job, your marriage and your family?
- Is it worth losing your job?
See above. Several of those men have had to resign or their companies have fallen apart due to their immature, indulgent and undisciplined sexual behavior. And then there’s everyone’s favorite serial creep, Anthony Weiner. The former New York Congressman threw away a promising political career, a beautiful accomplished wife, and his child by indulging his desire to send out dick pics to women and girls. Mr. Weiner has pled guilty to a federal obscenity charge—a felony. He’s unemployed, divorced and disgraced—the poster child for stupidity. That’s not anybody’s career goal.
The Bottom Line on Sexual Harassment
The bottom line is that preying on women in business doesn’t make you a player, a stud, or a powerful dude. It makes you a sexual predator. Is that how your mother raised you? Is that why your wife married you?
This isn’t rocket science, guys. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Whether you are an investor or a corporate executive, all you need is basic common sense, ordinary decency, clear thinking and more than a modicum of self control. Unless you’re a sociopath, you have those tools already. Put them to use and don’t let power go to your head. You may sit in the corner office but that doesn’t give you the right to corner an unwilling woman in it.
Use those 10 rules and both you and your business will prosper.