Last night I wrote a piece about the man who lost his job as a result of sexually harassing a female reporter. I said that I didn’t think he should lose his job. I questioned where the line was between personal and professional and whether employers should have the right to fire employees for things they do on their own time.
By this morning I was debating removing that post. My thinking continues to evolve on this issue. As is often the case I was thinking about it from multiple perspectives and hadn’t landed on my preferred lens.
- Having been a manager I am considering the issue from the point of view of whether the appropriate HR processes are in place to allow the employer to fire someone who makes stupid and harassing comments to someone who is not an employee outside of the workplace when the employee is not identified as an employee. This perspective is informed by my experience twice catching volunteers acting in ways that did not reflect the values of the organization. One I put on probation and then fired him because of additional bad behaviour. The other I suspended pending resolution of the allegations. This particular case is different because there is clear evidence of behaviour and intent.
- As an employee who makes public comments about issues outside of my workplace that are not related to my work – I like to think there is a line between my personal life and opinions and my professional one. I know this is not really the case anymore and I chafe against my self-imposed censorship on some issues because my employer would not be happy with me and because we have rules at work about what we can and can’t comment on publicly.
- As someone who believes in the myth of fairness. I guess my issue with this case is that this guy is not the only one harassing female reporters with this particular stupid comment. So unless we are going to get all of these guys caught on film fired, why is just this one being punished? Actually it is bigger than that and I think my perspective was backwards.
The question I’ve been thinking about this morning is – How much of a sexist asshole does one need to be in order to get fired? This guy was caught on camera and punished. What about all the other guys who harass women in their own workplaces, let alone the catcalls, bar and bus gropes, the general suppression that women experience everyday. What about all of those guys? They are also breaching codes of conduct and harassing and assaulting women. What are we going to do about them? Do those incidents also have to be caught on camera or land in the media to get action or will employers actually do something about them? So many sexist bullies are allowed to slide, hiding behind process or employers willing to tolerate bad behaviour if they are good performers or because it will be too much hassle to get rid of them.
So in terms of fairness – what are we going to do to ensure that the women who are being harassed, whether they are reporters, executives or the people who look after the plants in the office, are treated fairly? How do we make sure that the standard applied in this case are applied in all cases of harassment and abuse?
I think I have found my lens.
Ultimately I don’t care whether this particular sexist was fired or not. He is a symptom of the much larger issue of rape culture and sadly I don’t think his firing will solve the problem. I don’t even think it will put an end to the idiots shouting this particular phrase at reporters. Having encountered this mindset in the past, my sense is that this guy will be seen as the victim of the media and feminists. His supporters will talk about how it was just a joke and how women can’t take a joke. They are already excusing his behaviour because he had apparently been drinking.
So we need to continue to call out sexist behaviour where it happens. We need to step in when we see it happening. We need to educate kids about consent, human rights and equality of the sexes. As men we need to challenge our privilege and employers need to make sure that they are applying the same standard in public cases as they do to complaints from their own staff about sexism in the workplace.