When I began writing about the workplace on a regular basis in 1988, today’s timely topic of sexual harassment was still emerging from water-cooler shadows.
Our tight-knit group of highly spirited male and female writers, editors and office-support staffers used to joke how sexual harassment was actually an employee benefit at the small publishing company where we toiled away. There were a lot of harmless, off-color remarks bandied about in the face of intense deadlines and high expectations. It was a time when emotional intelligence and maturity were in short supply.
I cringe when thinking about overstepping the bounds of good taste to add levity or soothe a bruised ego over a potential office romance that never ignited. No one is perfect, and I will gladly take a number and wait in a long line along with anyone else who seeks atonement for crossing a line that now seems to have transformed from sand to cement. What’s fascinating to me is that Corporate America – along with Hollywood, the world of politics, education and nearly every nook and cranny in society – has reached a significant and historic tipping point.
We live in very different times than three decades ago, and I’m heartened to see an important cultural change take root whereby once-powerful figures are finally being held accountable and suffering actual consequences. It’s akin to watershed events in movements seeking an end to discrimination based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, as well as equal rights.
Since more than 50 women apiece have accused both comedian Bill Cosby and movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault or rape, a floodgate of similar charges have been unleashed and aimed at many other powerful men dating back decades before the statute of limitations have run out on the possibility of pursuing legal action. The list is long. It includes stories that are both old and new – everyone from Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly to Eric Bolling and Mark Halperin to Roman Polanski and Woody Allen and Bill Clinton to Donald Trump have been caught in the crosshairs of this mounting national controversy.
When I interviewed famed discrimination attorney Gloria Allred about the Bill Cosby revelations, she noted at the time that “it’s a wake-up call for women and men.” The same can be said about scaling a harrowing timeline on sexual harassment over the past month or so.
I’m hopeful that more victims of unwanted advances will come forward swiftly and decisively to their HR departments. I’m also hoping that we as a society will take these allegations more seriously and that HR leaders pressure top executives to investigate and mete out punishment where necessary. That goes for holding jerks and predators alike accountable for unacceptable behavior.