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Men In Business: Three Guidelines About Sexual Harassment

By: Dr. Robyn Porterfield
Tel: 214-234-0266
Email: Rose Porterfield Group

View Profile on

In this article we are speaking primarily to men in business management roles.  We are not saying you are a harasser.  On the contrary, we’re aware that more than likely, you are not a harasser, but your position and gender put you in the position to come across as one – and you want to avoid even the appearance.

Let’s define the kind of harassment we’re talking about because not all sexual harassment is physical.  Our research finds that the most common type of harassment seems to be verbal.  In fact, in a national study on Sexual Harassment conducted in 2018 shows a whopping 77% of women and 34% of men report having experienced this type of harassment, North (2018).  The bottom line is no one should be made to feel unnecessarily uncomfortable at work.  And according the EEOC, harassment doesn’t have to be physical.  Telling off-color jokes, flashing your underwear in a staff meeting, writing off-color poems about your co-workers, or photoshopping their face on a bikini-clad motorcycle rider are all examples of sexual harassment (yes, real stories and we have a hundred more that we could share if they weren’t too cringe-worthy to print).

In our practice we have also —thankfully rarely—encountered egregious sexual harassment: Our recommendation in those cases is clear-cut: immediate firing with prejudice.  That said, what we more often find are borderline ‘jokes’ or actions that get close to the line and in any case cause a great deal of upset and discomfort.

Now if you really think that women, including those who are twenty or more years younger than you find off-color humor funny, I don’t know what to tell you—and I’m not even sure this article will be a sufficient reality check.  If you know all that but it makes you feel manly to harass women, I don’t want you reading my article anyway.

I think I’m on solid ground when I say that most men do not want to be creeps – which is what sexual harassers are.  A lot of good men are confused and afraid of doing something harmful without knowing – and would benefit from some guidelines—perhaps not brand new—but these “Rules” are easy to understand and quite effective.

The Rule of WMD

Wife/Mother/Daughter Rule.  If you are a businessman wondering if your behavior towards a woman, often younger and in junior position is appropriate use this rule.

  • If your wife came home and told you her boss sent her an email with women wearing string bikinis (really happened) would you get a good laugh?
  • If your mother were at work and her boss unbuttoned his shirt to show his chest, (really happened) would that be okay with you?
  • Your blond daughter goes into her office one morning and finds a life-sized blond inflatable doll sitting at her desk (really happened) would you consider that “all-in-good-fun”?

Yes, those things (and a whole lot more) really happen and at organizations you would think would be far too sophisticated to allow that kind of behavior.

The POW Rule

Place of Worship Rule.  Many men in business management roles have a faith that guides them and often worship on a regular basis.  If you do, the next time you think sexual jokes might be funny, think about whether you would feel good about regaling those in your place of worship with the same joke?

The 2X Me Rule

Richard and me.  Here’s the backstory.  A few years ago, we were helping a very large manufacturing plant implement a safety program based on LEAN.  Some areas of the plant were fiery and bright, some dark and gloomy, populated almost solely by large, rough looking, hard-hatted men.  One of the areas was overseen by Richard and his small crew.  Their jobs were not technical, and Richard demonstrated the work for us.  He went to a pallet picked up forty-pound bales of raw material, one in each hand, walked over and hurled them onto a conveyer belt.  Then he went back got two more and repeated.  That’s what he did.  All day long.  Five days a week.  And it had the effect you would imagine.  As Richard did this over and over the Factory Manager, no small man himself, chuckled and said, “We all show Richard a lot of respect.”  I could well imagine.  Richard was much stronger than most men will ever be, and at least twice as strong as I ever will be.

We are all human and we can all get angry or frustrated.  Whenever  you are tempted to raise your voice in anger, point your finger in  someone’s face, or even talk in a rough tone, ask myself if you would do that to Richard at the plant.  In a dark area of the plant.  Just Rich and you.  Pointing your finger in his face or raising your voice. This example works beautifully for me and most of my clients, and (and “no” I would not).  Bullying may not be harassment in all cases, but harassment is definitely bullying every single time.  Avoiding it is a good step to avoiding a lot of harassment.

Nothing sophisticated about the WMD, POW or 2X Me but if you apply them – and have the men who work for you apply them – a lot of borderline sexual inappropriateness will diminish and you’ll avoid that perilous line that gets you sued – or maybe almost as bad, makes you just a creepy organization.

Robyn W. Porterfield, PhD, Managing Principal at RPG, spent over ten years in sales and marketing prior to completing her PhD in Industrial Psychology. Dr. Porterfield has assessed executives in such diverse industries as financial management, food service, telecommunications and retail. For five years Robyn and Bob co-wrote a column for the Dallas Business Journal titled, C-Level Coach. Robyn is also a professional mediator and currently mediates for Dispute Resolution Services of Tarrant County, Texas.

Rose Porterfield Group (RPG) has over 30 years of experience providing Business Performance and Human Resource services. As experts in human behavior, we provide litigation support strategy and testimony for attorneys and corporations. Offering unbiased, detailed, and objective expert opinion on all aspects of human behavior in the workplace, we can help determine the facts, motivations, and human factors involved in the case.

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