As a professional HR manager, I’ve been a part of hundreds of investigations over the years. I’ve seen the dirtiest porn, the meanest altercations, and dishonesty that could win Oscars.
Still, I believe that most people — including powerful people in corporate America — are good.
Take Paul for instance who was the leader of a manufacturing facility. He was loud and direct, always voicing his opinions even down to the most trivial of details, like who had the best Chili in Cincinnati (Chili Time, of course).
Paul had spent most of his life in rural Kentucky. He disagreed with Obama, and loved talking politics.
He had this way of talking tough that benefited people. For instance, when reinforcing safety rules at the plant, he’d things like:
I am not going tell your spouse that you died at work today.
He was generous with the company pocket book, always helping employees and organizations in need.
The first time I applied for my job there, I didn’t get it. He hired a woman of color. He believed that if there were two equally qualified candidates, you should hire the minority. And he specifically targeted strong women for leadership roles.
I guess I was spoiled. Because my heart bleeds for HR people who don’t have the backing of an ethical leader.
Here’s an example of how Paul handled sexual harassment back then — almost a decade before the recent media frenzy.
We had hired a vendor to come in and do an enormous project. Big budget item. I am going to be intentionally sketchy on the details. But basically, the CEO of this company sent an email to one of our employees asking for a secret meeting that his wife couldn’t know about.
It wasn’t blatant or raunchy, but it did make the employee feel uncomfortable.
She took the letter to me. I took the letter to Paul.
Get him out of my plant.
And we did.
No investigation. No hemming and hawing. No victim-shaming.
In fact, we didn’t even follow up with the vendor. We paid what we owed him. I told him we saw the letter and he wouldn’t be back.
Paul refused to dignify him with a response.
It really can be that simple. But is it?
When I think about #metoo and what companies should do to prevent a toxic environment, I realize that, in reality, they mostly just try to suppress the system of a toxic environment, rather than eliminating it. They to tell you to update your policies and procedures, or revise your handbook or train all employees on the warning signs of sexual harassment.
All of these things are great at covering your ass, but I don’t think they make systematic differences. I believe that we simply need to sharpen our moral compasses.
As a Mom of three boys, I’ve realized that I can do more on the homefront to win this battle than in the corporate office.
Here is what it is going to take…
You raise your kids to be ethical and inclusive.
You avoid sexist language and stereotyping.
You foster healthy girl-boy friendships at an early age.
You teach them that “no means no,” even when innocently wrestling, tickling or hugging friends.
You express emotions in a healthy way, so they learn that adults have feelings too.
You read, read and read some more to your children, hoping with all of your might that they fall in love with knowledge because it is the best weapon against ignorance.
You command respect. Just because I am “Mom,” it doesn’t mean my job is to “serve” them, and they must learn to treat other women the same way.
This isn’t a “woman’s” issue, or even an HR issue; it’s a humanity issue.
Paul was the hero in this fight. And I hope my boys will be the same type of leader someday (with the exception that they will clearly know Skyline has the best Chili, and Obama was an amazing president).
In my 20+ years in HR, I’ve learned that it’s not worth the mental anguish to support leaders who aren’t.
And when you find yourself in a situation where you get to support an amazing leader or become one, you treasure it.
And you will work together knowing that your company is a corner of the world where you get to make an impact.