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Business Casual: OK, What Next?

Hard to believe it was just a few months ago that we were shocked by accusations of sexual misconduct on the part of Harvey Weinstein, a major Hollywood power: incidents that ranged from “mere” groping to actual rape and a great deal in between.

Those were followed by more accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct on the part of men from the worlds of entertainment, restaurants, big business, sports, media and politics. The names made your jaw drop, even as the specifics made your flesh crawl.

It was hard to keep up with the charges and responses – some admissions and apologies, some denials – and consequences – some voluntary resignations, some forced ousters.

In one week in December, three members of Congress resigned: Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). And there was the close Senate race in Alabama, where Republican Roy Moore, accused of multiple offenses against young girls, was defeated. He was endorsed by President Donald Trump, who won his 2016 election despite charges of impropriety leveled against him and tapes of what he dismissed as “locker room talk.”

So now it is time for recovery, repair – and action. What do we do with all this information? How do we guarantee real change?

And however do we make sure that all the kids running around in Disney princess dresses and soccer uniforms do not have to endure what their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers did?

There has been a lot of “ranking” of reported offenses, which is understandable – yes, of course, a pinch on the behind is different from criminal sexual assault; but aren’t they both enabled by the same “boys-will-be-boys” mentality?

Yes, George H.W. Bush’s lame “David Cop-A-Feel” jokes are perhaps more pathetic than harmful, but I wouldn’t care to make that argument to a woman who heard that joke and perhaps got an accompanying pat.

Yes, Franken has a laudable track record as a champion of women’s rights, but that wasn’t enough to keep him in his job and may not have been a comfort to the women who lodged complaints against him.

And longtime Civil Rights activist Conyers? Many accomplishments, but a host of accusations that led to his resignation.

But enough hand wringing. What do we do as individuals and as members of communities, professions and organizations?

How about actual written policies, rigorously enforced, spelling out unacceptable behavior? How about providing clear procedures for investigating complaints that are not outrageously complicated or humiliating and are not vetted by the subject of the complaints?

Some training would help – real, serious, productive training, not just a random video. Some counseling for victims and perpetrators. Commitment and strong support from top leaders.

There need to be consequences – apologies, of course, but maybe even suspensions, demotions or firings, depending on the offense and the results of investigations. And if claims are baseless, those who deliberately make false accusations should also face consequences.

Companies need to pay as much attention to workplace safety as they do to the bottom line.

Women have a role as well. No more enduring for the sake of proving our toughness or avoiding humiliation. Those who have power should use it. Demand changes and enlist the help and support of other women. There is strength in numbers.

Back in the day, I experienced an odd but inappropriate phone call at home from a co-worker – I was standing in the kitchen cooking dinner with my husband and young daughter and got off the line as quickly as possible. The caller was a fully accredited “office good guy,” so I did not lodge a complaint with my immediate supervisor, another good guy; but I did give a full report to two women in the office – and to this day, both remember.

That seemed like the right course of action at the time, but I would not recommend it in today’s climate. Speak up, speak out, warn other women and tell the appropriate people in the office or organization. Remain vigilant.

I realize this is placing an additional burden on those who are most affected by sexual misconduct – fairly minor incidents like the one I referenced and more serious or dangerous ones.

Unfair as it is, I still think much of the burden for cleaning up this mess is going to fall on women. So what else is new?

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