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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Speaking Up Part 2: In the Workplace

My last post (“Speaking Up: When, Where, Why?”) called attention to the issue of males calling out hostile males when surrounded only by other men. I mentioned a recent lunch I was having with a friend who had a few choice words regarding a female friend of mine when I decided to speak up. While I do feel confident in my actions regarding the incident with my friend, I realize that it was a conversation among friends and in private. However, I have recently been a part of several situations in which I have seen male-perpetrated harassment of women taking place in an entirely different setting: at work and among people I do not know very well.

My summer job involves a great deal of interaction with new students at the university I attend. My fellow undergraduate colleagues and I often find ourselves in situations in which we are working 1 on 1 with students. Recently, I and a few other members of my staff have noticed some elements of the behavior of James (not his real name) that we do not feel entirely comfortable with. James has a habit of working with three or four of the female students each day in a much greater capacity than with any other incoming student. Often, his behavior crosses the line: sharing seats with women that did not invite him to do so, giving certain female students massages (again, without being asked to do so), and persistently asking for numbers (and not resting until he gets at least what could be the phone number of whoever he is asking).

Personally, James’ behavior infuriates me. I have brought it up a few times with my peers and most have similar feelings. However, we never do anything about it. Admitting that I have done nothing to stop behavior that is clearly demeaning, inappropriate, and offensive makes me feel horrible. Only now do I realize how silly it is to let James’ actions persist. The students we work with daily are already in a stressful position: the start of their college careers. The last thing they need is an aggressor like James stressing them out even more. I would greatly appreciate knowing what you all would do if in a similar position. Is it best to confront James? To inform his supervisor? What have been your experiences with workplace aggression?

Ryan Derry

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ryan, I'm enjoying your posts about what it looks like to be an active bystander in all areas of your life. It's a struggle but a worthy one. And based on personal experience, I'm sure you will continue to experience some successes and failures and a lot of 'in between' as you continue to practice being an active bystander.

In this situation, if you believe you have a relationship with James and have earned the right to be heard by him, taking a direct approach with him by pulling him aside and talking about his behavior might be a good place to start. However, if you think James is the kind of guy that would scoff or, worse, become volatile with you or others than going to his supervisor might be the way to go.

I would like to think James doesn't recognize his behaviors are potentially harmful and give him the opportunity to change. But, either way, I think it is imperative to let the employer know how their employee is representing them to "clients". In that sense, your role as a colleague is more like a mandate reporter in that your job is just to tell his supervisor what you are seeing and allow them to investigate as well as take corrective action(s).