Opinion: Workplace harassment mustn’t go unresolved

Matt Poe

Hang on tight because this column is all over the place.

I met an old friend last week to catch up on life and grab a beer. Our conversation sifted through a variety of topics, including how her new job has been.

All seemed academic until she casually mentioned that one of her bosses was sending her unwarranted messages and getting a little too personal for her comfort.

I don’t remember how exactly this point got brought up (I only had two beers, relax), but it nevertheless bothered me, mostly just how casual her tone was, as if this was something she was used to.

And while I know she’s had another instance of this in the past, it made me wonder how often this happens to women in the workforce.

Without swaying into an entirely different conversation, I am tired of over analyzing and dissecting every single thing in our political climate today. It seems as if every single statement or piece of news is combed for any potential racial, sexist or phobic underlying messages that are used as more fuel to an already massive tire fire.

I’m sure it doesn’t help that we have someone like ‘Grabber-in-Chief’ in the Oval Office, who makes things like sexual harassment sound as nonchalant and casual as asking someone if they’ve seen their car keys.

What a great message that sends to young men on how women should be treated.

By no means am I saying we should let blatant comments that offend others go freely.

Hateful speech that targets any particular group must be condemned. But I do think there is a yin and yang factor at work here. Some of us feel we need to condemn everything while simultaneously wishing some things could just be. And harassment of any kind should never go unresolved.

Stay with me here, I’m trying to right the ship.

Anyways, today’s means of communications make it so easy for women to be the target of unwelcome advancements in the workforce. I know I always pictured these advancements like something out of the show Mad Men (which is stupid and naïve on my part) where a man deliberately makes unwanted remarks to a woman’s face.

But with today’s technology, these lines of unwarranted remarks can be everywhere. They can come in newer forms like email, text messages and social media. Or they can arise in much more traditional ways like phone calls, handwritten notes and verbal remarks.

I don’t want this column to be me sounding all high and mighty, even though that is usually my goal with a great many things. I need not tell women sexual harassment or unwarranted advancements in the workplace are a major issue that needs addressed. You’ve seen it. You may have been a victim of it.

I can’t speak from any experiences of my own because I have never been on either end of this situation and would like to keep it that way.

Many women cannot say the same thing, when it comes to not experiencing these types of situations. One-in-three women have been sexually harassed in the workplace, according to a Huffington Post article from 2015.

To me, that is absolutely staggering.

But I bet it’s not to most women, as the article indicated 71 percent did not report the instance to anyone. And who the hell can blame them for not?

With the way we often treat victims of sexual harassment, it’s no wonder most women fear speaking out or seeking a solution.

Some may not want to risk their career. Some may really enjoy their current employer and think they can adjust to it. And some, like my friend, may sadly be used to it and view it as just another obstacle that women face in the workforce, even if it’s just verbal and no physical contact has been involved.

I don’t know if I’ve provided many solutions here. I’d like to think it’s as simple as raising our sons to be better men and have a greater respect for women from the beginning. But it’s not that simple. It never has been nor will it ever be.

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this column, it’s that we need to change this culture at work. No woman (or man) should feel uncomfortable at their workplace or feel the need to brush off comments that have no place there.

And until this culture of unwarranted advancements and victim blaming that often comes after is acknowledged, this problem will continue to go unreported even more so than it already does.  

Because 71 percent is a bullshit number. There’s no other way to say it.

Matt Poe is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].