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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Context Rules


Most women and many men have experienced some kind of harassment in all types of workplaces. However, sexual and racial harassment are not about words, they are about power dynamics and pervasive behaviors within a context. 

The hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas included sexual harassment accusations by Anita Hill. That was 1991. Following his confirmation, corporations and government agencies embraced not only anti-harassment training, but welcomed effective and innovative approaches. Their goal was to increase reporting so they could resolve issues to avoid legal action. However, filing a claim or suing an organization for harassment is not only difficult, but expensive for the accuser. 

Two decades later, sexual abuse and harassment are in the headlines. Sadly, these repugnant behaviors are not being assessed based on context. Political arguments can also tailor facts and ignore context. Why ponder ramifications and underlying circumstances when a meme can capture and promote ideas out of context?

Thinking is required to investigate each and every unique context as a way of finding resolution. Setting aside money for settlements only maintains a sexualized or racially charged working environment. The process of training and reporting needs to be less about blame and more about good management. 

Time for everyone to step up - especially those in power who need to think about not only professional ramifications, but the personal damages. Will thinking replace reaction and cover-up? Will we opt for context rather than generalizations? Hard to know.