Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Dr. Chris Kilmartin

Toxic Culture:  When Does Individual Opinion Become Collective Wisdom?


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

After each article we ask for comments from readers, and interestingly, receive many responses representing various opinions.

The following represent individual opinions that taken together represent the conversations occurring across America.  Note the different perspectives, but especially the commonalities. Please feel free to answer each question if you choose, and we will post those too.

Reader No. 1:

Great piece as always. You may want to write about generational differences in this issue. Had lunch with a publishing colleague and we were swapping notes. She told me that the 30-somethings in her office were militant, but the 20- somethings were not. And I agreed! I had a discussion with some 20-something women this past weekend who felt that the whole issue had just become a trend that would pass soon.

I worry that the deeper more critical issues are being lost in everyone wanting to have their own trendy #metoo moment in the light.

It might be interesting to see what your reader base sees in their communities and workplaces on generational differences.

By the way, no reason on why the older millennials are more militant than their younger peers – or their older “sisters”. Thoughts?

Fascinating stuff.

Reader No. 2: Thanks for sending this which I read with interest.  I have fingers crossed for long term improvement. Going forward, I think a challenging moment will arrive in about three to five years when there will have been significant turnover in these organizations, but the urgency of this moment will be in the distant past. What will happen then? I surely hope the changes of this moment will endure then!

Reader No. 3: I once wrote in my now defunct blog, an issue entitled “The Forgiveness Factor.” It was an attempt at rationalizing for those knew what they knew, and when they knew it, but don’t tell. It’s about sexual misconduct, but it’s also about all of what’s wrong, when something is going wrong. Think Enron.

Who’s next?… rumor has it that Matt Lauer was “doing” his stuff for many years, but the NBC morning ratings are VERY important to network earnings…so live and let live…until you get caught…or until public opinion was too strong to ignore. Now of course Lauer is gone, disgraced, wife divorcing him, having to live on his savings…and a few Execs lost their jobs, but they waited until the pressure cooker of public opinion blew the lid, so to speak.

Of course, the big “whale” a financial industry term, is Harvey Weinstein, in the entertainment industry. Now let’s get something clear here. I was a little kid, barely able to speak when I listened to the radio and learned of Hollywood’s jokes about the “casting couch.” I don’t think there is an American who hasn’t heard that expression. Somehow it was always said in jest…There was never a visual in those days…no starlet ever said out-loud, “Gee, I got the part because I had sex with Mr. Louis B. last night…”

It was a big joke, probably with 99% truth to it. There was no forgiveness factor needed because in the eyes of the American public men and women had their own roles, and nobody was offended that a starlet might have had a romp on the casting couch. What was to forgive?

Then the world changed. Civil Rights, Equal Rights, Women’s Rights, Sexual Preference Rights…et.al…  and when the rules changed the cuteness of the casting couch became the battle of “rights” and “law” and harm and threat. So Harvey, you opened up a great big door through which you could drive a proverbial tractor-trailer truck. Women who said NO…others who knew and allowed it to happen for profits (yes, Harvey, like others you made a lot of very profitable movies and made a lot of money and had a lot of influence)…women who were demeaned, threatened, embarrassed, changed their careers, …for your ego? For your influence?

So now there are a million stories in the press…many are legitimate, blasts from the past, 99% accurate…and they get men to quit their jobs, or not get elected (BRAVO ALABAMA), or in the latest event to get fired (Bye, Bye, Steve Wynn).

But… I have a concern…   seems this all applies to famous people in high profile jobs.

What about all of those nameless, faceless Male and Female Americans who need our culture to change in order to have a voice…who is attending to that?  If a 50 year-old woman said that her postman abused her 30 years ago…what’s her recourse…what factor was operational for her 30 years ago? Who would have listened?

There has been a tiny change…but we need a Sea Change…led by a government and business that supports these valueswithout a FORGIVENESS FACTOR…honoring the rights of all peoples…who have all varieties of preferences…and where YES means YES and NO means NO. And finally, where the rule of law applies equally to all.

We welcome your thoughts and comments. Each contributes to the conversation which is the key to understanding and culture change.

Please send them to WATExplorer@gmail.com and we will publish them. Thanks!

Toxic Culture: The Significance and Damage of Victim Blaming


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

Dr. Kilmartin wrote and provided the powerful thoughts in this week’s article.  

One of the questions asked by outside observers of sexual harassment or assault victims is, “Why did the person take such a long time to come forward to talk about the incident?”

An excellent question.  A prevailing thought is that, “If this happened to me, I would have spoken up right away and taken care of the SOB.”

Not so fast, at least until you have walked in someone else’s shoes. Labeled “Victim Blaming,” this belief is holding the target of maltreatment or violence partially or wholly responsible for their own victimization.

Victim blaming is a psychological security operation.  “If I can find one thing that the victim did, and attribute the maltreatment to it, and I avoid that behavior, nobody will victimize me.”  

For sexual harassment or assault, Victim Blaming is rampant and an unconscious strategy for dis-identifying with the victim.  Common versions of victim blaming include the attributions that a woman was mistreated/assaulted because:

  • She is immoral.
  • She has poor judgment.
  • She accompanied the offender to the site of the attack.
  • She consensually kissed the offender and/or flirted with him.
  • She drank too much (people attribute more blame to a victim the more they are told that she drank; people attribute less blame to the offender the more they are told he drank).
  • She dressed provocatively.
  • It’s easier for her to “cry rape” than to look like a slut.
  • She liked it at the time but regretted it the next day.
  • She didn’t struggle or say no (up to 40% or more of assault victims show a “tonic immobility” or “freeze” response, which is an involuntary brain response rendering them physically unable to resist or speak).

Rose McGowen, the first woman, and well-known actress to bring rape charges against the now infamous Harvey Weinstein, described exactly this response.  She writes in her recently published memoir, Brave, “I did what so many who experience trauma do, I disassociated and left my body. Detached from my body, I hover up under the ceiling, watching myself sitting on the edge of the tub, against a wall, held in place by the Monster whose face is between my legs, trapped by a beast. In this tiny room with this huge man, my mind is blank. Wake up Rose; get out of here.”

Victim blaming is fueled by the Belief in a Just World: the belief that people get what they deserve.  It is a denial that sometimes bad things happen to good people.  Again, this belief maintains a false sense of security.  If I think of myself as a good person, nobody will victimize me.

Examples of Belief in a Just World (alternative explanations in parentheses):

  • A person is poor because they are lazy (as opposed to disadvantaged).
  • A person is rich because they are smart and worked hard (as opposed to being privileged and inheriting wealth).
  • A person needs extensive dental work because they haven’t taken good care of their teeth (as opposed to having a biological predisposition for dental problems).

When we encounter evidence that the world is not a just place, we either act to restore justice or maintain our belief in a just world and thereby blame the victim.

When people describe assaults in passive voice and/or language that focuses mainly on the target of maltreatment, victim blaming is more likely.  For example, in the sentence “she was attacked,” the person who attacked her does not even appear in the sentence.

Victims often become adept at blaming themselves for the same reason.  If I do not do that behavior again, I will be safe.  Many times victims become experts at blaming themselves and do not need help from others.

Many times, victims are seeking support from friends, family members, professionals, but if they are punished for their experience(s), the trauma and ultimately the ability to recover quickly, if at all may not occur.

We welcome your thoughts and comments. Each contributes to the conversation which is the key to understanding and culture change. Please send them to WATExplorer@gmail.com and we will publish them. Thanks!

Toxic Culture: Green Light, Yellow Light, Red Light


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

Many readers responded to the GREEN Light, YELLOW Light, RED Light guidelines (see the story) to identify the differences between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. All asked for more examples. 

We are familiar with the colors that everyone identifies with; Green Light – Go; Yellow Light – Caution; Red Light – Stop.  

The following scenarios describe potential harassment situations that might occur in the workplace. Using the traffic light analogy, consider these scenarios and the questions that follow asking for your thoughts in response. Tell us how you scored these vignettes, and we will publish them. The correct answers are posted below. 

Before you read each scenario, please consider:

  • Is there inappropriate behavior?  

If so, is the behavior(s) RED, YELLOW or GREEN Light? 

  • Most importantly, consider what would you do in this situation?

Case Scenario 1

While at work, Nina frequently makes personal phone calls to her friends. Her conversations are loud and generously sprinkled with foul and obscene language. Her co-workers in nearby cubicles cannot help but overhear her conversations.

What is the inappropriate behavior, if any? Is it green, yellow or red light?

Yellow Light  Foul obscene language is Inappropriate; however, the behavior can move into red light if the language becomes sexual in nature.

Case Scenario 2

Mihai persists in asking his co-worker Maria out to dinner, even though she turns him down each and every time he requests a date. She has told him several times to stop asking.

What is the appropriate/inappropriate behavior, if any? Is it green, yellow or red light?

Red Light because she said no, and he didn’t stop asking her to dinner.

Case Scenario 3

Alexander frequently tells sexual jokes during team meetings. Lilia is offended. She doesn’t think Alexander’s jokes are so funny.

What is the appropriate/inappropriate behavior, if any? Is it green, yellow or red light?

Yellow Light  It is inappropriate to tell sex jokes during team meetings; if infrequent may not rise to level of hostile environment unless really offensives such as “rape” jokes.

Case Scenario 4

Suzanna and Haik are co-workers who enjoy a great working relationship and just recently have started dating. They can’t seem to get enough of each other. They take breaks and lunch together and are often seen flirting in the break room. They are clearly infatuated with each other.

Is the appropriate/inappropriate behavior green, yellow or red light?

Yellow Light The bystanders are harassed as well. It is always inappropriate to be flirting at work. Plus, it is unprofessional at the least, and distracting at most.

Case Scenario 5

Timur and Olga, travel together on a week-long business trip. In the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel, Timur snuggles up to Olga and tries to hold her hand. Olga strongly objects, and Timur backs off.

What is the appropriate/inappropriate behavior, if any? Is it green, yellow or red light?

Red Light, as Timur has created a serious hostile work environment: unwanted touching.

Case Scenario 6

Anton is Director and has hired Rosa, just out of graduate school, as his assistant. After a few months on the job, Anton caresses her back and suggests to Rosa that if she shows him some “real appreciation” he might be inclined to promote her. Rosa refuses and is fired two months later for no good reason.

What is the appropriate/inappropriate behavior, if any? Is it green, yellow or red light?

Red Light, as Anton makes an implicit Quid Pro Quo offer. The offer does not have to be explicit, just implied.

Case Scenario 7

Andrei: Well let’s see, next order of business for the meeting here today is the new hire, Rita. She is hot. I just hired her a couple days ago. Have you guys checked this out yet?

Mark: Yeah, good job Andrei.She has the longest legs I’ve ever seen.

Elena: In reviewing Rita’s application, and as an assistant, I see that I hired her for her computer skills, and her typing speed, and not her appearance or body measurements.

Andrei: Elena we realize that. All we’re saying is she’s a qualified individual but she just happens to look very nice and we’re commenting on that.

Mark: I don’t see any harm in that and I, for one, look forward to seeing her on a daily basis.

Elena: Why are you guys talking about her as if she is a piece of furniture or a decoration? What on earth do her looks have to do with how she does her work for this company?

Andrei and Mark: Well, we’re just a bunch of guys, I mean it’s normal guy stuff. Men talk about these things, as do women sometimes.

What is the appropriate/inappropriate behavior, if any? Is it green, yellow or red light?

Strongly yellow, because Mark and Andrei are creating a hostile environment against Elena. Note: Andre and Mark are depersonalizing Rita, i.e, would you make the same compliment for a man? These comments are unprofessional and inappropriate in the workplace, and create a hostile work environment for Elena.

Key Points to Remember

  • Any conduct or behavior that has a sexual innuendo or suggestion is considered YELLOW Light; and if unwelcome, can easily lead to RED Light If the behavior becomes pervasive and persistent.
  • YELLOW Light is not strictly prohibited; but, it reflects poor judgment! It is often inappropriate behavior in the work place.
  • When someone is engaging in YELLOW Light behavior, and you find it offensive, embarrassing or uncomfortable, you can help everyone by asking the person to refrain from such behavior, if you feel safe in doing so.
  • When someone asks that you refrain from YELLOW Light behavior in their presence, it is important that you respond to that request respectfully and promptly, and that you honor that request.
  • RED Light behavior is quite serious. And, should come to the attention of management. If you don’t feel safe reporting the behavior, you can ask a colleague who can be an Ally, to report RED Light behavior to someone in management, and management will address the behavior.
  • When a supervisor becomes aware of a YELLOW Light situation, the supervisor will inquire into the circumstances to determine whether any further action is appropriate. The supervisor should also consult with senior management about the incident. Document the incident, and your actions to try and remedy the situation.
  • When a supervisor observes or hears about RED Light behavior, the supervisor must take immediate action to stop the behavior, and immediately notify senior management about the incident. After the matter has been investigated, serious disciplinary action will normally be appropriate. Management must also take all reasonable steps to remedy the situation and prevent its reoccurrence.
  • We don’t want YELLOW Light to occur; If enough YELLOW add up, they could add up to RED
  • Aspirational goals: Not just compliance; we want a workplace that is fully respectful.

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.

Toxic Culture: He Said…..She Said….She Didn’t Say…They Said…


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

Many readers wrote to ask our thoughts regarding the article in Babe, an online magazine interview with “Grace,” the fictional name of the young woman who had a date with comedian Aziz Ansari.  Without repeating the numerous accounts of the evening already posted in the press, and without assigning blame, it occurs to us that The Issue is about how to have Crucial Conversations.

Our sexual harassment/assault practice has taught us that most men and woman want to do the right thing. But right now, in this real time moment, the fear of doing the wrong thing, saying or acting inappropriately far outweighs taking any action at all.  We are hearing that men are reticent to ask women out on dates, that when on a date, women are leery of saying what they actually feel or want, sometimes fearful they will offend their date.  This goes for both men dating other men and women dating women.  Another unintended consequence is that both men and women in the workplace are afraid to mentor younger employees for fear of offending the mentee.  Also, we hear from both men and women that they are simply “scared silent!”

Often, we are taught that being right is important.  We equate being heard with being right and often expect the automatic acceptance of our position by the other person. Ever play ‘telephone’? If so, you know that the phrase you began with and passed along to the next person, when passing through the lips of the last person, is not only not what you said, most times it is hysterically different.    

The same phenomenon can occur between two people as among ten people. When we think the other person isn’t paying attention and/or we don’t feel heard we tend to push harder.  What happens next?  The person receiving your information may shut down, may change the subject, ignore your thoughts or resume his/her position before the conversation began.

So, how to begin the Crucial Conversation? 

1. Some ground rules and simple suggestions. 

  • First don’t assume that you are right and the other person is wrong No one is ever right or wrong on every issue.  Conversations take place so each side can express their thoughts and feelings.   Each side can listen, learn and state their opinions. 
  • Decide at the outset what you want from the conversation.  What is the best outcome for you?  If you don’t know, then state this, and explain that your hope is that what you want will become clearer as the discussion takes form and substance.
  • Agree to disagree. EVERYONE sees the same situation through their filters, and not every filter results in the same perspective.
  • Agree that each person will be able to finish talking before the other one jumps into the conversation. Acknowledge periodically that you hear the other person’s point of view. You may also want to ask them if they understand what you are trying to say. 
  • If the conversation doesn’t go the way you would like, take a pause and continue at another time after you have again thought through your preferred outcome.

2.   Beginning the uncomfortable Conversation in workplace situations. (Noting these techniques can be used in personal circumstances too.) Using eye contact and begin with one of the first two approaches: 

  • “I have something I would like to talk with you about, do you have time to talk?”
  • “I would like your help with an issue that is bothering me. I would like your feelings (perspective) about this too”. 

Then launch into specifics:

  • “When you touch me, it makes me feel uncomfortable (and/or you could say I am tense, embarrassed, uneasy).”
  • “I had different expectations from our relationship.  I prefer to keep it professional  (and/or, to respect our work space; and/or to continue to enjoy working on our joint projects).”
  • “When you refer to women in a disrespectful way like “that bitch” it makes me feel nervous, (or angry) and I’m not sure how to respond.  How about when we are together you avoid saying stuff like that?  I would really appreciate it.”

3.  Successful Outcomes:

  • Know why this conversation is important to you. You may have to repeat the reason to the other person several times.
  • Listen to what is important to the other person. Ask him or her to repeat it if you need to understand fully.  Once you do understand what he or she wants, then be sure you can adjust your desires with this goal, and/or can accept it.
  • Curiosity killed the cat or so they say.  However, when listening to the other person, curiosity can be your best friend.  Learn as much as you can through these dialogues. Remember you can always end the conversation if the outcomes don’t suit your desires. If the other person changes their behavior in the way you asked, remember to say thanks, that you appreciate being heard.  Same thing if you make a “slip” and offend someone else and they tell you it offended them; no need to defend yourself in a long dialogue of what you meant, just say you are sorry and thank them for telling you.
  • Most importantly, you have crossed the divide into productive dialogue, and can continue to use these suggestions to your benefit.  If this is a relationship you want to continue, problem solving solutions with the person is the next best step. 
  • Practice, practice, practice. 

The preceding is based on Kilmartin, C. T. (2017).  Male allies to women.  In J. Schwarz (Ed.), Counseling women across the lifespan: Empowerment, advocacy, and intervention. New York: Springer.

Toxic Culture: The #MeToo Movement


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

The #metoo movement exploded on social media shortly after Harvey Weinstein’s fall from his powerful position as the “movie maker” mogul creating Oscar-winning actors and movies. But long before this watershed event, women were harassed and assaulted, and it was perilous for many of them to challenge the prevailing thought that the victim was not telling the truth. 

What follows is an unfortunate, but all too typical, scenario.

Three women sit next to each other in the prescription alcove at the grocery store,  not knowing each other, but waiting to hear the number announcing their medicine is ready to be picked up. The oldest of the three, late forties, is neatly dressed in a grey wool sweater and matching slacks. Flipping through the newspaper, she pauses on a photo of a famous female celebrity standing in front of a #metoo sign.

“I just don’t get this #metoo movement,” she exclaims out loud. “I’ve been married for 15 years, my husband and I have a good relationship. Okay, sometimes men have whistled at me, but no one has ever crossed the line. Do you really think most women have experienced harassment?” she asks of no one in particular. 

“Well, I’m an emergency room nurse,” the second woman says. She has black hair pulled back in a ponytail, and is wearing a sweatshirt, blue jeans, and running sneakers. She yawns. “I had the night shift last night. I patched up five women two because of their possessive boyfriends, one because of a jealous husband, and two others whose stories I didn’t learn. The women were ashamed to tell even the police the names of the men who assaulted them. What depresses me is that even since the news broke about Harvey Weinstein, the women keep coming through the door with swollen lips, cuts, bruises, and more.” 

“Do you know how #metoo came about?” inquires the first woman. “I have two daughters and a son. Even though it hasn’t happened to me, if this is as widespread as you suggest, I would like to educate my kids about this kind of behavior.”

The third women, wearing sunglasses, a black pullover, black slacks, and, until now silent, sarcastically asks, “Seriously, you think? Have you checked their social media lately?”

“No kidding,” explains the nurse. “Trust me, your kids are seeing and hearing things that’ll make your mind spin! Actually, the #metoo thing goes back a good while to a civil rights activist who was working to help victims get over the pain of sexual trauma. She was really ahead of her time. I think her name was Tarana Burke.  Then that actress, Alyssa Milano, who accused Harvey Weinstein, encouraged women to tweet the #metoo phrase to show how huge the problem is. It took off like wildfire. Over 32 million people worldwide have posted online, and lots of them added their own story of being harassed or assaulted. #Metoo has been a game changer for sure and women now have their voice. The other really good news is the support that is growing among `good men’ who want to help drive the change, which Is awesome!”

“Opps, the pharmacist just called my number, so gotta’ go,” says the first woman. “But thanks for talking with me about this. I will be sure to teach my children about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, what to say and do. Have a nice afternoon.”

The third women stared straight ahead as the older woman left, then turns to face the nurse, slowly removing her sunglasses. Her left eye is swollen shut, and the skin around it is black and blue. “Please help me,” she asks through tears.

From Author Dr. Chris Kilmartin:  I think this issue is framed really well. I’m starting to see the expected backlash now, some of it coming from women basically saying, “boys will be boys; women just need to get over it.” It’s always easier to tell women what to do, than it is to expect men to be decent human beings. And the people missing from the conversation are the good men, those in the vast majority, who are not confronting other men on their behavior. It’s MLK Day and I just saw a quote from him saying that he was more disappointed in the White moderate than in the KKK.  I think there’s a parallel there in that we have a lot of passive men who are afraid of confronting their friends and colleagues on their sexism and/or don’t know what to do. This is an eminently solvable problem.

The preceding is based on Kilmartin, C. T. (2017).  Male allies to women.  In J. Schwarz (Ed.), Counseling women across the lifespan: Empowerment, advocacy, and intervention. New York: Springer.


We welcome your thoughts and comments. Each contributes to the conversation which is the key to understanding and culture change. Please send them to WATExplorer@gmail.com and we will publish them. Thanks!

In our past article – How Shall the Punishment Fit the Crime? – we learned about the Red, Yellow, and Green Light way of evaluating sexist behavior. Then, we “listened in” as three men were presented with various scenarios and had to decide what color light should be assigned to each situation. One episode involved replacing the face of a bikini-clad Miss Universe with that of a female employee. Other examples dealt with compliments – what’s appropriate, what goes too far. Here are some reader comments:

1) Head on an image – what if someone put a guy’s head on Miss Universe? Is that demeaning? These days with software being what it is, people superimpose faces on all sorts of images. I think the key for me would be consent. If a person (woman or man) agreed to the gag or was routinely part of the joking around, then this should be a yellow not a red. Use caution, common sense, and assess context. 

The compliment is really tough. I routinely, for example, compliment women and men. Am I guilty of abuse? I think that people enjoy being told something positive about themselves and I have the philosophy that you can always find something nice to say to someone and brighten their day. Often it is related to them personally. People appreciate simple comments. It’s not intended to be abusive or sexist or discriminatory. I think there is a difference between acknowledging politely (and professionally) a new hairdo or tie or shirt – and something like “you look hot today,” which can be considered inappropriate. I worry that any personal interaction is coming under negative scrutiny. It’s the human element that makes the world – otherwise we will all just become machines. Saying something politely and nicely shouldn’t be negative. 

Thanks for this continuous stream of thoughtful dialogue in your articles!

2) The traffic light analogy is a provocative way to frame behavior. Thinking about your examples, and depending on your point of view, it might be that yellow light should not only be caution but thought of as seriously approaching red. But serious caution is called for. I like this analogy because it is simple, and can be used in a lot of different  situations.

Toxic Culture: How Shall the Punishment Fit the Crime?


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

In a previous article, we discussed that sexism is a form of prejudice, just as racism is.  In the last article, we discussed Prevention of Sexual Harassment at work: What’s OK, What’s Not OK? We listed workplace behavior that is acceptable, and behavior that crosses the line. However, the line is confusing, and several readers wrote to say the guidelines are unclear and therefore unfair to those who would like to do the right thing. Their comments follow.

 “OK! I get there are rules that can guide workplace behavior. But, it is mystifying to me about the gradation of severity of inappropriate actions and their consequences. So, how is it calculated among President Bush Sr.’s pat on the fanny, Senator Franken forcing non-wanted kisses on colleagues, and Weinstein exposing himself to non-consenting women? These actions simply don’t equate to me in terms of intensity, and therefore in equal punishment. Solutions?”

“I admit I am a fan of Senator Franken, and I still think he got a raw deal having to resign as compared to the really egregious behavior by many of the other men. Isn’t there a penance that people can do? Everyone should have the opportunity to learn and change.”

In response to these comments, it is often challenging to decide where the line is drawn on different types of behavior.

Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light

To address this issue, the U.S. Navy in 1993 defined sexual harassment using colors to group acceptable and non-acceptable conduct by using an analogy to a “Traffic Light.” The Navy uses a different framework now, but this analogy works for the lay person.  

“Red Light” behavior simply must not occur in the workplace at all; should never happen in the workplace. Such behavior that is always unacceptable includes sexually explicit visual displays, unwanted touching of a clearly sexual nature, or a supervisor basing job-related actions on an employee’s agreement to provide sexual favors.  

“Yellow Light” means cautionThis behavior is questionable in the workplace and should be monitored very carefully. This is behavior that involves race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information or medical information, or sexual orientation. Examples include gender-related jokes, sexist comments or remarks, physical behavior, or visual displays that involve sexual innuendo.  

“Green Light” behavior is appropriate and/or acceptable in the workplace and is often necessary to the job. This behavior may build trust and teamwork in the workplace rather than undermining trust and teamwork.

Remember Dave, Miquel, and Fred In Men as Allies, and how they learned to discuss respect and inclusion issues, and then confront each other when differences occurred? Assume these men are now participating in a Sexual Harassment Prevention training session, and are assigned to the same group. A classroom is set up in a large conference room and the facilitator faces the class. Displayed on a screen facing the group are explanations of Red, Yellow, or Green Light Behavior. The session is in progress, and the facilitator recites the following example.

“In your group, decide among yourselves whether the following situations are Red, Yellow,  or Green light conduct.”

1. An employee uses the company email to send some jokes to other employees and to friends outside the office. The jokes are about sex.

Dave, “Oh man, this is too obvious.Of course, you can’t use the email to tell a joke.The Company pays for the Internet so it should be only for company business.”

“Wait a minute,” interjects Fred.“So, we could tell a sex joke person to person”?

“Well”, says Miquel, “any inappropriate joke, whether in person or through email, should be off limits. Time for a decision: Red, Yellow, or Green Light”

“Ok,” says Fred, “not a piece of cake. But, Red Light?”

“Red Light,” the other two agree.

What would you say? A. Green Light? B. Yellow Light? C. Red Light?

2. Bill puts up a picture on the bulletin board of Miss Universe in her bikini bathing suit with the head of Jane, an Employee in the office, very carefully and artfully superimposed on the body of Miss Universe. 

Miquel begins, “This is inappropriate, I think. Was Jane asked if she minds her head being superimposed on a Miss Universe body”?  

“Actually, my take is that since the bathing suit photo doesn’t have anything to do with our job, I agree this is inappropriate,” says Fred.

“Well, she looks really good in that photo,” says Dave. “I wonder what Jane thinks?  Isn’t this the point?  The person has to agree and it is ok”?

“Shall we vote?” asks Miquel. “Two yellow, one green,” says Fred. 

What would you say? A. Green Light? B. Yellow Light? C. Red Light?

3.  A male supervisor compliments a female member of his staff on her new hair style by saying, “Mary, I like what you’ve done with your hair style. It looks very nice!”  

“Softball…,” exclaims Dave. “We learned last week compliments are OK! Don’t need to vote. Green Light. Everybody agree?”  

“He,y be careful. Would you ever say that to a guy, and if not, isn’t that a sexual innuendo?” suggests Miquel.

“Oh, OK, when you put it this way I can see this is Yellow light. Everybody agree?” asks Dave.  Followed by high fives.

What would you say? A. Green Light? B. Yellow Light? C. Red Light?

4.  At an office party, a female supervisor suggests to a male subordinate that they leave and get a bottle of Champagne and go to a nearby hotel.

“Here we go again!” says Dave. “The blasted consent issue once more.”

“Sounds like this is Green Light to me,” Miguel insists. 

“All right, two consenting adults, even if one is a supervisor, going to a hotel with a bottle of Champagne, should be fine?” questions Fred.

“I think so, but guys, she’s his boss and even if he goes along with it, he might just be caving into the pressure,” adds Dave.  

Miquel raises his eyebrow. “Dave, you are usually odd man out on these scenarios. But you gotta’ agree with us on this one; look he’s a guy and a single guy at that, so why not, what’s wrong with you, man?”

“Ok Ok, I cave…. Green Light,” shouts Dave. Fred and Miquel knuckle bump.

What would you say? A. Green Light? B. Yellow Light? C. Red Light?

The facilitator wraps up. To emphasize, “Red Light” behavior will result in serious disciplinary action, up to and including separation from employment. If your behavior is “Yellow Light,” very often, like the traffic light situation, you can quickly cross into “Red Light” behavior. Thus, frequent or persistent jokes or comments that are “Yellow Light” can become “Red Light.” When you are engaged in “Yellow Light” behavior and someone asks that you refrain from such behavior in their presence, it is extremely important that you respond to that request positively. Green Light – Behavior that is appropriate in the workplace.

Answers: How many did you get correct?

1. Q.  Sending sex jokes through the Internet. The group decides Red Light.

A. C. Sharing sex jokes in the workplace, whether by email or verbally is Red Light as it is considered offensive and is inappropriate conduct. Although, if everyone wants to hear them and nobody can overhear them, it’s not sexual harassment which has to be unwelcome. It is, however, quite unprofessional and has no place at work for that reason.

2. Q. Employee face superimposed on Miss Universe. The group was divided, “Two yellow, one green.”

A. C.  Red Light, as this behavior is considered offensive and/or intimidating; even if Jane does not object; also note Dave’s comment was itself inappropriate.

3. Q. Male supervisor complimenting female subordinate on new hair style. The group agreed it was Green Light. 

A. B. Yellow light. Yes, the “hair style” comment might be fine, but context is important – was it accompanied by body language or behavior that suggest it wasn’t simply an innocent compliment?  If it’s debatable, it could be Green Light, or Yellow Light.

4. Q. Female supervisor suggests to male subordinate to get champagne and go to a hotel. The group decided Red Light.

A. C. This is Quid Pro Quo, definitely Red Light.


We welcome your thoughts and comments.  Each one contributes to the conversation which is the key to understanding and culture change.  Please email WATExplorer@gmail.com and we may publish your comment. Thanks!

The following is based on Kilmartin, C. T. (2017).  Male allies to women.  In J. Schwarz (Ed.), Counseling women across the lifespan: Empowerment, advocacy, and intervention.  New York: Springer.