Advice from the road warriors!
The “ho hum,” been there/done that remedies for stopping sexual harassment have been sitting in seldom-read policy manuals for decades. And yet harassment still raises its ugly head in organizations large and small, public and private. There’s no better validation than the recent “me too” movement and perpetuators who have seen their personal lives and careers go up in smoke.
So, what effective personal strategies should potential targets of harassment consider? How do they ward it off in the first place, or respond to it in the moment?
I took those questions out to a number of women who have adopted strategies to first, signal that inappropriate behaviors won’t be put up with and, second, how they’ve managed to get perpetuators to back off. I call them “road warriors,” the forerunners with some great stories to tell. They’re battle worn, the ones who defy the myth and stereotype that targets of harassment are typically meek and powerless, cower to their aggressor, live with the behavior or just leave the organization.
Here’s a sampling of what my road warriors had to say:
“Early on I learned to read people in anticipation of who might eventually target me for unwanted attention. The clues I look for are their body language, the words they use in talking about women and how they seek and exercise power. “ – Shirley, Vice President
“A warning sign for me is when he starts complaining about how unsatisfying his marriage is. I immediately respond by telling him how happy my marriage is and then shift the conversation back to something related to work.” – Bianca, Administrative Assistant
“Look, I’m in the rough and tumble sales field and have had to fend off more than my share of aggressive clients. When I casually mention that I’m married to a 300 pound defensive tackle with the Kansas City Chiefs who has with issues with anger management, their behaviors immediately cease.” –Marilyn, Marketing Director
“I put my membership certificate with the National Rifle Association on the wall in my office and that did the trick. In fact, I went to Office Max and had it blown up to the size of a poster to make sure it would not be missed.” – Patricia, Store Manager
“Okay Terry, I’ll admit that this tactic stretches the truth, but when this one dude wouldn’t take no for an answer I casually mentioned that HIV runs throughout my entire family. He never pestered me again after that.” Helen, Hotel registrar
“When I casually mention how thankful I am for social media, especially hidden mikes and cameras, suddenly problematic behaviors disappear. “ – Anun, Engineering Associate
“I told one guy that I’m not really a woman. You should have seen the look on his face.” –Polly, restaurant worker.
“My extremely loud voice and purposeful use of bad breath, outbursts of bodily gases and foul language will usually turn them off.” – Erica, rental car agent
“Aside from having warded off unwanted attention myself, I now will pull both targets and aggressors aside and coach them. That way they both know that the behaviors between the two are being watched.” – Dottie, Fitness Center manager
In the end, my road warriors all agree on the following:
- Establish and communicate your boundaries and expectations as early as possible in any relationship because as you size up others, know that they’re probably sizing up you.
- Avoid laughing at sexual jokes since that may be their way of testing you.
- Although the way you dress does not give license for unwanted attention know that that may be the reaction.
- Develop and have ready to deploy individual response strategies for both subtle and not so subtle behaviors that may occur.
- If your organization has support groups for women, employee resource groups, etc., initiate talks or panel discussions focusing on responding to unwanted sexual attention.
Okay readers, let’s hear from you now. What else would you suggest that we add to the advice from our road warriors?
©Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, story-teller and trainer. He is also senior associate, Diversity Wealth, a member of the Cross-Cultural Academy and contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report and New York-based Catalyst. Over 3000 managers have completed his “Sustaining a harassment-free workplace” training. He can be reached at email@example.com