Toxic Culture: Just Say Stop!

By Karetta Hubbard, Lynne Revo-Cohen, Chris Kilmartin, and Gwen Crider

Previously, we gave an example of sexual harassment occurring in a male boss’ office with him harassing his female employee. (See the story.) He offered to give her a massage so she would be relaxed for the upcoming meeting that she would be chairing. The employee was uncomfortable yet she was reluctant to confront him to state she did not want a massage. Women typically do not report the incidents, sometimes until years later, and sometimes not at all. Then we asked readers: Do You Know What You Would Say?

Many of you shared your stories of what to say, how it felt, what worked and what didn’t. Your stories were heartfelt, some of you stood up for yourselves, some just couldn’t but shared how much that frustrated you. Sample responses that reflect what most said and felt:

1. I’d like to believe I’d have the courage to do this, although it’s hard for me to say. I worked in a dive bar for a while with a boss who exhibited pretty sexist behavior. As much as I wanted to say something, I never did. I always chalked it up to the fact that I knew I’d be getting out of there at some point — I wouldn’t have to deal with it forever, but at that moment I needed the job and couldn’t risk losing it…. That’s what’s really sad — that we have to fear losing our jobs or advancement opportunities at our jobs just to feel comfortable in our work space.

2. There were two retired military officers that constantly said sexual remarks to me such as: did you get on your knees for that rating? Although many others recognized I was a hard worker, this was hard to deal with emotionally. I reported the comments and when they asked what I wanted to come of it, I said I just want it to stop, I’m not trying to get anyone fired.

Your honest feedback actually represented “best practices” from the experts, and follows thoughts to begin the conversation to Stop the Harassing Behavior. NewPoint’s Sexual Harassment prevention training program includes, Ouch and Educate, that teaches the harassed to state that what the person said was offensive, and made you feel uncomfortable.  The offenders (bosses as well as colleagues) are taught to just say he/she is sorry, and not to explain.  The shorter your statements, the better.

One proviso: this approach is an important one, but know it is a suggestion, not an obligation.  Each of you needs to feel safe to take this step.  If you are nervous about speaking up, try practicing what you might say with a friend or family member. That will help, but if you feel like it’s too risky, look for other options in your company policy, discussed below.

1.  In simple and concise words, describe the offensive behavior back to the harasser.

You just suggested I might want a massage from you, and you’re my boss… you know it’s just not right to ask me that.

2. Articulate your feelings about the incident(s).  

In fact, I really don’t want a massage from you. When you say things like that it makes me very uncomfortable….. and I really don’t want to be touched….. so please don’t go there.  

3.  State clearly what you do want from your boss.

Look I love this job and I want to talk about our meeting coming up, but let’s keep this professional…..seriously, I’ll be fine running the meeting and want you to focus on the work to be done. Please do not offer me a massage again.

Confronting your boss is the best approach to end the behavior. However, if this doesn’t work, then read the company’s employee handbook or manual to determine your rights and the policies in place to protect you. In the meantime, do:

Document, document, document!  every meeting with your harasser. Write the date, time and the details of what occurred, including he said, she said.  Even if this is a Memo to File it is important to establish a record of occurrences. Consider sending it to yourself via email to have a verifiable, dated record of when the situation occurred.

Tell someone, your trusted co-worker, your significant other, a family member. Again, issue a memo to file, detailing date, time and response of the confident(s).

If the behavior from your harasser doesn’t cease, then file a complaint. Contact Human Resources and follow the EEO complaint guidelines. (A future issue will discuss the EEO complaint process.)

Next Week.  How men can be heard and help as allies.

Since 1984 the founders of NewPoint Strategies, Karetta Hubbard and Lynne Revo-Cohen, have built a strong reputation for delivering extremely effective prevention training in high-risk issues such as sexual harassment/assault.  Contributing Author and Lead Consultant, Chris Kilmartin, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of Psychology from the University of Mary Washington, is an expert in Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention, specifically Male Violence Against Women. Gwen Crider is a Diversity Expert. For more information, go to the website for NewPoint Strategies.

Top photo from Bigstock

About KHubbard LRevo-Cohen GCrider Chris Kilmartin Maria Morukian (26 Articles)
Since 1984, the founders of NewPoint Strategies, Karetta Hubbard and Lynne Revo-Cohen, have built a strong reputation for delivering extremely effective prevention training in high-risk issues such as sexual harassment/assault. Contributing Author and Lead Consultant, Chris Kilmartin, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of Psychology from the University of Mary Washington, is an expert in Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention, specifically Male Violence Against Women, Gwen Crider, a diversity and inclusion strategist with over 20 years of leadership experience in non-profit and private sector organizations, and Maria Morukian is an internationally recognized diversity expert