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MadMen, #MeToo and the Managerial Response

In the pilot episode of the television series, Mad Men, new employee Peggy Olson experiences sexual harassment from junior executive Pete Campbell on her very first day:

PETE: Where are you from, honey? Are you Amish or something?

PEGGY: No, I’m from Brooklyn.

PETE: Well you’re in the city, now. It wouldn’t be a sin for us to see your legs. And if you pull your belt in a little bit, you might look like a woman.

PEGGY tries to hide her embarrassment by ignoring Pete. To her manager, sitting and watching this exchange: Is that all, Mr. Draper?

PETE laughing: Hey, I’m not done here. I’m working my way up.

We might like to think that this ‘kind of thing’ might have happened in the days of Mad Men and not in 2017, but the public has been awakened by Cosby’s drugging women, Trump’s grabbing p***y, Weinstein demanding naked massages and, as recently as this week – disclosure of sexual harassment by two government cabinet ministers in the UK and staff at the City of Regina landfill.

Less than a month after Harvey Weinstein’s predatory sexual behavior hit the news, millions of women around the world began to use the hashtag #MeToo on social media to share their own stories of sexual harassment or abuse. Not only has this social media storm fueled an intense public debate, the #MeToo movement has also heightened awareness for managers about in the workplace.

Though leaders might like to think ‘this kind of thing’ only happens with celebrities and politicians, it is evident that it happens in many workplaces and on many work teams.

But when a manager hears a comment that is sexist or harassing, what is he or she to do?

Don’t Let it Pass

A belief within management and HR circles has been to praise in public and discipline in private. Although there is merit in addressing negative both in private and when the manager ‘has time’ – if the negative is a comment of a sexual harassment nature, taking the discipline behind doors only sends the message that the manager is ignoring or condoning the inappropriate . It must be dealt with in the moment, surrounded by those who heard the comment.

Intervene

Sexual comments are often made for one of two reasons: either to create a romantic or sexual bond with the woman concerned or to strengthen the bond with other men who overhear the comment. Regardless of the intent of the speaker, a manager must make it immediately clear that the comment was over the line.

A manager may first try a light comment that might push the employee back on the path of respect.

  • Wow! You didn’t really say that?
  • Ouch! Do you have something against working with women?
  • Really! That isn’t a comment you expect to hear in a workplace!
  • Cut that out! We don’t make comments like that here!

If the manager’s words are scoffed at or if the comment itself was egregious, a manager may want to immediately take a more serious tact, reminding the employee about the organizational policy regarding sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, along with the corresponding disciplinary outcomes.

Don’t Laugh it Off – It’s Not Locker Room Talk

In the Mad Men example above, after Pete’s last comment, Don Draper points out to Peggy: “Sorry about Mr. Campbell here. He left his manners back at the fraternity house.” After Draper’s comment, Pete merely shrugs and leaves. He did not take the senior manager’s comment seriously.

Don Draper’s suggestion that Pete’s comments were ‘frat house’ is not acceptable in today’s workplace. Neither is the belief that when men are alone together it is not only acceptable to speak about women in derogatory ways – it is expected. The workplace is not a locker room.

The Managerial Response

The most important things for managers to do when they witness sexual harassment is to view the issue seriously and take action in the moment. Are you Amish or something

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