My career spans four decades. I have facilitated sexual harassment training for businesses, non-profits and small companies, conducted several harassment investigations as an objective third party, discharged employees guilty of harassment, and prepared documents and appeared for court proceedings involving harassment claims. Though we are now inundated with sexual harassment claims, harassment also includes hostile work environments.
I am a straight, married, white, protestant female. As you may imagine, I have dealt with harassment from every juncture except personally being from other races, religions and sexual orientations. And I have been harassed. Frankly, I don’t know many working women who haven’t been. My incidents have occurred at half of the employers I have worked for.
My first job out of college was Deputy Clerk of a US District Court. My office and the US Marshall’s office shared a doorway. I was engaged to be married, had my first apartment and lived alone. Little can compete with the resourcefulness of a US Marshall. They weld a lot of power. Imagine one showing up at your door – on more than one occasion. Think about it.
So many women are now coming forward with incidences from decades ago. “Back in the day” there was no human resources. Some companies had a personnel department and 9 times out of 10 a man held that position. Despite holding degrees in criminal justice and as a litigation paralegal, I would never have dreamed of reporting anything to anyone. There was a huge imbalance of power. It was a COURT SYSTEM! It was just the way it was.
Subsequently, I married and moved to South Carolina where I have since held positions with 3 law firms, a hospital, and a media company. I am currently an HR consultant for non-profits and businesses, large and small. In my 40 year career, I have seen it all, and personally experienced more than enough of it.
Harassment has emerged from the Dark Ages into the light. It is not pretty; it’s downright disgusting and heartbreaking. It certainly isn’t new. Ultimately, every individual is responsible for his/her conduct, boundaries and decisions. Now is the Age of Enlightenment. It’s time to reboot, refresh the respect button, and seize opportunity to exam our own conduct and its impact upon others. There are no longer any excuses for not speaking up. It’s a new day. The responsibility works two ways.
Take me, for example. I am a vibrant embracer of life and people. It’s my way of sharing boundless enthusiasm, love and joy. Truth is, it can be like fingernails on a chalkboard for some. I was recently reminded of this.
A multitude of workers have helped to build our new home after the house fire we suffered 2 years ago. They have been endearing, dedicated souls working hard to get us ‘home’ as quickly as possible. There are a few who have been devoted and stalwart beyond measure. They feel like part of our family. One dear soul, despite my protests, continues to call me “Mrs. Morlok.” With harassment incidents being daily news, it recently occurred to me that my hugs and enthusiasm were making this worker uncomfortable. He was drawing boundaries I wasn’t honoring.
I, the HR professional, the keeper and enforcer of workplace ethics and dignity, and promoter of healthy corporate culture crossed a boundary for someone just trying to do a great job. This made me so sad and sorry. Even the best of intentions can fall far short. Lesson learned.
I share this story hoping others will realize that we all possess the ability to make others uncomfortable. Intentional or not, our behavior can cause worry, embarrassment, and be offensive, even to the level of harassment. We are accountable for our actions, even if others do not speak up. But now, there is no excuse for NOT speaking up. It is the Age of Enlightenment.
“You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in. ….. Keep it simple. Ask questions. Do the ethical things. Take the hard, slow road. It’s a worthwhile path…” (Waylon H. Lewis).
You will be hearing more and more about harassment. Look at it wholly and through the eyes of all parties, especially through eyes unlike yours. It’s our opportunity to become more respectful, aware, and ethical, to make it right, and to make it better for those ahead of us. The #ME TOO goes TWO ways.
~From the desk of Becky Morlok~
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