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.

toxic culture

Episode 21: Gwendolyn K. Crider Talks About Unearned Privilege


“Some people are born on third base and go through like thinking they hit a triple.” That is a familiar quote from author and professor Barry Switzer.

Hopefully you’ve been following our popular series, Toxic Culture, delving into the issues that are having a profound impact on society, not just in America, but around the world. A recent story in the series about unearned privilege really grabbed our attention and we thought it would be interesting to have a discussion with the author, Gwendolyn K. Crider. 

Gwen is an independent consultant who regularly works with corporate, government, and non-profit organizations to help them create and sustain inclusive workplace environments. Before that, Gwen served as executive director of Diversity Best Practices, a membership organization that helped primarily Fortune 500 companies develop innovative solutions to achieve their diversity and inclusion objectives. Gwen first became actively engaged in developing diversity and inclusion initiatives while holding senior level positions in the museum field. Listen to Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti interview Gwen.

Episode 8: Karetta Hubbard and Lynne Revo-Cohen Talk About Their Series, Toxic Culture


Have we reached a tipping point with sexual harassment? Karetta Hubbard and Lynne Revo-Cohen come to this discussion from a unique point of view. For more than 30 years, they have been advising companies on important workplace issues, including sexual harassment and sexual assault. They have been writing about the topic for Woman Around Town in a series titled “Toxic Culture.” In this podcast, they talk with Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti about how the workplace has evolved since they began their work, how the #metoo movement is forcing change, and what needs to happen next. 

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: 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.