If there's one thing any man who claims to be aware of the possibility of sexual harassment in the workplace should know, it's that even the wokest man needs to do a gut check periodically.
We all fall into behavioral ruts and stop paying attention to how we're acting when we're comfortable. That's not a bad thing: to be on eggshells all the time would drive us insane. But it's precisely when we're comfortable, when we think all's right in our little corner of the world, that we can fail to see that something's wrong.
We don't see it because we're comfortable and we assume all's well. And that's the problem.
After quoting a number of men who wonder if they are behaving appropriately, or might have behaved badly in the past without knowing it, the piece pivots to men who aren't worried. One company founder queried his female employees:
“I came into the office and said, ‘Hey, guys, I’ve got a question for you: This sexual harassment stuff, all these things, do you guys ever worry it’s going to happen here?’” Mr. Lencioni, 52, recalled. “And they were like: ‘No, because we know you. We know who you are.’”Maybe the women in that office were being perfectly truthful. However, if men should have learned anything from the recent spate of harassment stories coming to light, it's that the harassed party often doesn't feel that he or she can afford to speak up: the power dynamics of the work environment make them fear for their jobs and even livelihoods. The higher up the man who's asking is, the more likely people will think they need to tell him what he wants to hear.
Other men said they had not talked about workplace harassment with anyone because they already knew what they needed to know. “This is a liberal town,” said Philip Rontell, a real estate agent in Walnut Creek, Calif., who added that he supported the #MeToo campaign. “We all already know this stuff.”No offense to Mr. Rontell but that is possibly the dumbest attitude one can have. If as a man you think you already know everything you need to know about harassment, you are part of the problem.
The number of reports of harassment by high-profile men in different vocations is only the tip of the iceberg: I'm certain of that. That kind of behavior afflicts high-status men because to an extent every man has enhanced status in this culture. You may think you are despised by the world but if you are male, a woman in the same circumstances has it worse than you do.
Even if you are a paragon of equal-mindedness and proper behavior, you need to be on guard because male privilege is baked into this society's morés.
Businesses need to have systems that allow employees to report harassment, and those systems need to respond promptly and equitably. Yes, it's a giant headache for managment and it's open to abuse — but can you honestly say that not taking proactive steps to discourage harassment is a reasonable response to what we've been seeing these past few months? Indeed, if you consider the Catholic Church's horrific sexual-abuse outrage (made infinitely worse by the Church's attempt to hide it), we've known about institutionally-facilitated abuses for decades.
As a man you don't have to walk on eggshells all the time but you — we — can't afford to be complacent, either. We have a giant blind spot that our culture permits us to ignore too often. That has to end — and the first step, as always, is to admit we have a problem.