Sexual Harassment is Bad Business

Sadly, many of the same challenges and issues I experienced in the 1970s are happening in the workplace today.

Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct conversations are finally consuming our dining rooms and our boardrooms. For many of us who have grown up in the corporate world, the stories we hear on the television are not new; however, they are now being exposed and discussed. And, corporate executives are beginning to realize that this behavior is bad business.

The stories of sexual harassment in the workplace have become very personal for me. My daughter, Kyle Godfrey-Ryan, came forward recently to speak about being a victim of sexual harassment; her goal is to support other victims and let the healing begin. in Kyle’s op-ed piece in CNN, she articulates her thesis; "I worked for Charlie Rose. Calling him a villain isn’t the answer."

Gender Discrimination Is Bad For Business: Show Me The Money

Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of Ellevest, a digital financial advisement company for women, understands how gender discrimination is bad for business. The past president of the Global Wealth Management division for Bank of America states in her New York Times piece that, “Homogeneity has led Wall Street firms to travel in packs…” and white men still lead the Wall Street pack. She eloquently points out that this lack of diversity has led to several financial disasters and argues that indeed this is bad business. Krawcheck goes on to say that “… one can draw a line from the gender discrimination on Wall Street through to the lack of women — and lack of diversity of thought — in the industry to increased risk and to the financial crisis.”

As an Executive In Residence at a business school for an Ivy League University, I mentor graduate students. In that capacity, a group of young women approached me last year to set up a women’s group where they could discuss sexual harassment and other
gender-biased workplace issues, off the record. Sadly, many of the same challenges and issues I experienced in the 1970s are happening in the workplace today. The invite for dinner, the hand on the knee, the whispers that, “You are not a team player because you don’t want to go drinking with us” are all still commonplace. Or, how about, “Now that you have children, you probably don’t want to travel, or stay late,” which all leads to the unspoken seriousness about your career.

The conversations should be taking place in the boardrooms with your senior management as well as the dining rooms with our families. It is our collective responsibility to examine this behavior in ourselves and come together to change that behavior. We need to start with our words and let them become our actions. “Locker room talk” cannot be justified. Think about the worst insult that you can give a young boy or a male athlete? “You throw just like a girl.” We may all be guilty of embedding that subconscious belief of disrespect into our young children.

The next thing we all need to work on is shifting the corporate paradigm of power. Power should not mean dominance and entitlement. With power should come the desire to protect and lead with wisdom, by example. We can’t define power as the ability to lord over others ruling by tyranny and fear, taking what we desire by coercing those lesspowerful.

First, we must find our voices. I am learning from my daughter, Kyle Godfrey-Ryan’s and am quoting from her CNN op-ed piece.
“I implore us to embrace and examine the discomfort of this historic time. Allow the anger, the rage, the sadness and the numbness to sink in. Only then can we treat ourselves with all the compassion and vigor we can muster. A society in which everyone, men and women, allows themselves to feel and process difficult experiences is both healthier and less susceptible to predatory behavior.

This is not an impossible task, but is a hurdle we must overcome. Today, we are in mourning. We are still immersed in a time that has only recently unchained the suppressed female voice. Tomorrow, we will be required to live again, and I hope we choose to heal.”

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