Managing the Drama ...

News, observations and practical advice from today's workplace

sexual harassment

This is Not New

November 14, 2017

by Geoffrey Scheer

It's difficult to remember a time when sexual harassment dominated the news cycle as it does right now. From the first allegations leveled against film producer Harvey Weinstein a few weeks ago to the current firestorm surrounding GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, sexual harassment in the workplace (and beyond) is the talk around water coolers, in boardrooms and in online forums across the country. Women are feeling increasingly empowered to step forward with their stories, as displayed in the #MeToo movement on social media, and a recent article in the New York Times finds men nationwide reevaluating their behaviors at work and asking themselves if they have ever crossed the line with their female co-workers, either knowingly or otherwise.

But to those who have been paying attention, this is not new. An extensive study released last year by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that sexual harassment remains a serious and pervasive problem in the United States, despite 30 years of awareness, training and litigation since the Supreme Court ruled that workplace harassment was a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Of the 90,000 charges received yearly by the EEOC, they report that one third contain some component of sexual harassment.

When you consider the vastness of the American workforce, 30,000 reports of sexual harassment may not seem like that great a number. However, the EEOC is quick to point out that the incidents which are reported are only a fraction of the incidents that actually take place. Their study found that when a person is the victim of harassment, the actions they are most likely to take are (1) avoid the harasser, (2) attempt to downplay the severity of the harassment in their own mind or (3) make a conscious effort to forget that the incident ever happened.

The action that a victim of harassment was least likely to take was to report it.

This makes it impossible to know the actual number of incidents that occur each year, much less calculate the costs exacted on either a human or a financial level. Last year, the EEOC collected $164.5 million in damages on behalf of harassment victims, but that's just damages paid. It doesn't begin to take into account associated legal fees, nor does it account for lost productivity, turnover or damage to an organization's reputation that may result in a loss of clients and revenue.

It can seem tasteless to talk of "silver linings" in situations such as these, particularly when the victims of harassment often spend their entire lives struggling with the emotional repercussions of the abuse they endured. But we can, at the very least, take advantage of the fact that this subject is now top of mind for so many. A discussion has begun, and some might argue that a movement has begun with it. It doesn't heal the victims and it doesn't solve the problem overnight. But it's a start.

sexual harassment

Upcoming Presentations

January 3, 2018

by Geoffrey Scheer

2018 is off to a great start. 

This year, Access Communications will be presenting at three major HR conferences, starting with SHRM-Atlanta's SOAHR 2018 Conference in March, followed by Space Coast Annual Conference in Melbourne, FL, in April (where we will give the keynote presentation). Then in June, we will be presenting at the biggest HR conference of the year, SHRM National's Annual Conference and Exposition being held in Chicago.

All the while we will continue to deliver our "Acting With Respect" training programs in diversity and sexual harassment awareness and prevention to companies all around the country.

Excited for these opportunities to bring our message of respect and tolerance in the workplace to a broader audience!

sexual harassment

Reflections on 2018

December 17, 2018

by Geoffrey Scheer

Seeing as I began 2018 with a look ahead, it seems only fitting that I end with a look back on the year that was. (Perhaps it would have been nice to have a post or two in between, but then I'd have one less New Year's resolution to make!)

I began in January with back to back SHRM chapter presentations over two days; the first in Lakeland, FL and the second in Elk River, MN. Two very different sets of clothing for those locations, though apparently I dodged an arctic bullet in Minnesota, squeezing the trip into a short window where temperatures made it out of the single digits to right about the freezing mark. And I have to say, while Elk River is a smaller SHRM chapter -- nothing like the National Conference and Expo in Chicago, which I'll get to -- this was probably my favorite presentation this year. I usually leave a few minutes open at the end of a session to answer any questions, and it's rare that I need much if any of that time. After this presentation, though, we all ended up staying long past the end of the meeting time, engaging in a frank and open discussion of the challenges facing the HR community and the working population as a whole. The conversation spanned such topics as sexual harassment, LGBTQ issues, the question of privacy in a digitally connected world and more. I don't know that we came to many concrete solutions to these challenges, but the discussion itself was enlightening and one that has informed the way I continue to look at all issues related to respect in the workplace.

In the spring, I presented at conferences in Atlanta and Melbourne, FL. I found both events to be well organized and, from my vantage point, an overall positive experience for attendees and speakers alike. My thanks to SHRM-Atlanta and the Space Coast Annual Conference for having me!!

Summer began like a shot out of a cannon -- one fired in outer space with no gravity or atmosphere to slow down the cannonball. In June I presented "Respect in the Workplace" at the SHRM Annual Conference and Expo, marking my first time speaking at the national level. The experience was ... interesting. One of the challenges of presenting this program is that organizers often have trouble wrapping their minds around exactly what I do. I go to great pains to stress that this is a theater-based presentation, and as such I don't use any audio/visual aids whatsoever. No PowerPoint, no slides, no videos, not even microphones. I want this to be a human to human experience. And yet, at every event I arrive to find a projector and screen set up, with a tech guy trying to pin a microphone to my lapel. When I tell them that I don't need any of that stuff -- and that, in fact, I need it all to go away -- they look at me like I just crawled out of the Neanderthal exhibit at the Natural History Museum. Then they shrug as if to say, "Your show, chief," remove the stuff and let me get on with my presentation.

Chicago was no different in that regard. What was different was the size of the audience. Part of doing a "no-tech" presentation is the necessity of presenting to a smaller audience. In Chicago, I was set up for SIX HUNDRED PEOPLE. It was also a fairly narrow, train-like room setup, meaning the actors and I would appear as tiny dots to anyone sitting in the back rows, to say nothing of the difficulty in hearing us.

In retrospect, I handled the situation poorly. I should have abandoned my stance on doing the presentation without microphones, but I held my ground instead. The result? The whole back third of the hall -- a good two hundred people -- up and left during the first five minutes of my presentation because they couldn't hear it. If you've ever had the misfortune of watching two hundred people walk out on you while you're speaking, you have my deepest sympathies. It was a wretched experience, made worse by the fact that I still had another 85 minutes to go!! I will say that once the room got to a semi-manageable crowd size (though 400 is still far too many), the program did get back on track, but the image of that mass exodus at the start is one that will haunt my dreams for years to come.

Immediately following that presentation, I had to run to the airport as I was set to begin an all day training session in New York the very next morning. So, of course, my flight was cancelled and all other flights were booked. After spending the night in O'Hare (again, an experience I would not wish on anyone), I made it to New York early the following morning to find my luggage had apparently decided to take a later flight. So off to my all day training I went, wearing the same suit I had been wearing since about 7am the preceding morning; the same one soaked in the flop sweat of a man watching a massive chunk of his audience walk out on him; the same one I wore throughout a sleepless night at O'Hare; the same one I wore as I  navigated my way through Chicago and then New York in the full blast of summer; the same one I would have to wear as I made my way back to La Guardia at the end of the longest day of my life to finally retrieve my luggage.

I felt like Jack Bauer in the worst season ever of "24."

That trip to New York was the start of training for Access' biggest client of the year, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation. In total, we ended up doing 32 presentations for them spread out between four locations: New York, Jersey City, Los Angeles and St. Louis. My unending gratitude to SMBC for having us and for their dedication to providing a respectful, harassment-free environment for their employees.

Late summer looked to be a slow time when an unexpected gift dropped in my lap -- I was hired to write the scripts for a sexual harassment prevention video being produced by SkillPath.  For six weeks, I worked with a dedicated team of content creators to shape a two-hour program that would update their training videos to reflect the #METOO era and the current trends in approaches to training. Writing for video was a really great experience, one that allowed me to stretch myself creatively and do things (like adding special effects, utilizing close-ups and freeze frames, etc.) that just aren't possible in a live presentation. I think the client was happy with the work and I'm hopeful it will lead to further opportunities down the road.

The fall was spent providing training for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, marking my first public sector client. Criss-crossing the state provided a few logistical challenges, but the sessions seemed to be very well received and I am extremely grateful to DECAL for trusting us to tackle these serious issues with their workforce. Thanks to their commissioner Amy Jacobs for having us and extra special thanks to their HR Director Robin Stevens for recommending us in the first place and working with us to create a memorable training event.

What will 2019 bring? Stay tuned ...

sexual harassment

Preaching Civility in an Uncivil Time

January 8, 2019

by Geoffrey Scheer

Who can shout the loudest? Who expresses the most outrage? Who can stand by their position unfailingly, regardless of contradictory facts or new information?

Welcome to public discourse in the 21st century.

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