With the growing protest of sexual harassment in Hollywood, a lot of us are left wondering: why are we ignoring that when abuse of power isn’t of a sexual nature, countless competent and ambitious workers like Ann Curry get pushed out of their jobs? Why are only those in protected classes (gender, race/ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, age, sexual orientation, individuals with disabilities, and veteran status) accounted for under law when general workplace bullying is four times more common than sexual harassment? Why should someone choose between their health or a paycheck because their competence — rather than their protected class — threatens the power abuser?
While #metoo exposed that law can’t protect everyone when they’re forced to choose between speaking up or preserving their jobs, sexual harassment law certainly moved the needle on the norms of sexual abuse in the workplace. But when there are no laws to protect those suffering from verbal abuse, threatening, intimidating, or humiliating behaviors, and sabotage, CEOs have no accountability to pay attention to the health of their workplace cultures. So employees believe nothing will be done when they report abusive behavior, and rightfully so.
We all deserve protections from abuse at work, regardless of the form and who we are. “Otherwise, workplaces will continue to be used by narcissistic individuals as personal playgrounds for predatory actions, which can negatively impact individuals, organizations, companies, and societies,” says S. L. Young in his Huffington Post article “Harassment goes beyond sex, women, Hollywood, and politics.”
How do we do more to prevent abuse of power in the workplace? We demand change. The workplace anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill is stuck in the State House, and we need your help to move it forward.
For the first time since the Harvey Weinstein scandal became public, a major publication made the connection between sexual harassment and workplace bullying, even noting the workplace anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill and its author David Yamada.
This article’s a big deal.
In today’s LA Times article “To end sexual harassment on the job, end workplace bullying,” Reporter David Lieberman says:
Legislators can do more to address the problem. They can make workplace bullying illegal. Too many corporate leaders find it expedient to look the other way when bosses — especially ones they deem indispensable — systematically intimidate and humiliate underlings. Bullies who believe that their whims matter more than other people’s dignity often don’t see why their sexual impulses shouldn’t be just as indulged.
Abused employees would be able to go to court if states or Congress adopted laws like the Healthy Workplace Bill, proposed by Suffolk University Law School professor David Yamada. He found that U.S. courts rarely sided with victims of bullying who sought relief under employment laws that already prohibit “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Taking a page from the standards for a hostile work environment established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Healthy Workplace Bill would empower employees to sue companies for actions that “a reasonable person would find abusive, based on the severity, nature or frequency of the conduct.”
The timing couldn’t be better. With just eight months left in the two-year legislative session in Massachusetts, meaning we’ve already reached the halfway point, the bill is stuck in the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development led by Rep. Paul Brodeur. Retailers and business organizations have voiced their opposition. We need a stronger voice. We need a big push to legislators asking them to ask Rep. Brodeur to move the bill, Senate Bill 1013, an act regarding workplace bullying and mobbing without regard to protected class, favorably out of committee.
Let’s look at the facts: 80 percent of workplace bullying targets are women (Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI)). Compare those numbers to other issues we generally see as women’s issues:
- Sexual harassment: 79 percent were targets of sexual harassment are women (Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE)).
- Domestic violence: 85 percent of targets of domestic violence (physical, financial, and/or emotional abuse) are women (Huffington Post).
So what’s the answer?
The simply answer is no. Men can be targets of workplace bullying just as they can be targets of sexual harassment and domestic violence.
But the facts are too hard to ignore: women take the overwhelming majority of the brunt of these abuses. While we don’t have research to support why women are more than twice as likely to bear the brunt of workplace bullying, we can make some educated guesses as to why it’s the case:
- We value masculine over feminine. Competition over cooperation. Capitalism breeds competition, a trait we associate with masculinity. Yet studies repeatedly show that it’s cooperation, not competition in the workplace, that increases a bottom line. Even if a female boss is the perpetrator of abuse, she’s abusing under a masculine, competitive culture.
- Men hold the power in the workplace. If anyone has power to abuse, it’s men. “Women are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs,” reported the Center for American Progress in 2014. It’s men who are most often creating the workplace culture from the top down.
- Men may feel more entitled to power and may not be aware of how they exhibit this entitlement. Perhaps because men more commonly have power positions, men feel more entitled to power. Anecdotally, I’ve been taken aback by male colleagues who claim to support healthy workplaces yet also grab power by saying “we’ve let you…” or “don’t do this…” instead of “what do you think of…?” In other words, they don’t see our roles of equal value, they feel entitled to dictate, and they don’t work collaboratively.
How we change the gender dynamics
History shows that it’s often not until the privileged speak up that norms change. Take civil rights or same sex marriage. First, the violated group speaks up through grassroots efforts. Eventually, the subjects become household topics.
The New York Times author Irin Carmon addresses this issue along gender lines specifically. In her article “What Women Really Think of Men,” a piece about not letting men off the hook for not recognizing women’s equal humanity, she uses the phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations” to describe “just dealing” with the status quo. “Men taking responsibility, even retrospectively, is what it’s going to take for us to believe another world is possible,” she says.