Cindy Gallop, formerly of global creative agency network, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, recently wrote a blog entitled ‘Want to get ahead at work? It’s all about sex.’ In it, she makes some interesting points. My own view is that we are all sexual beings. Whether we’re young or old, married or single, sometimes the people we meet through work turn our heads.
How we deal with those impulses, however, makes all the difference: it’s about respect. As I’ve matured, I know that I command more respect simply by fully respecting myself. We radiate this through our language, the way we hold ourselves and the behaviour that we will and won’t tolerate – this is just one of the reasons that I coach women into stepping into their own power.
Sexual Harassment and the Law
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. In a recent case, the UK Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled that a solicitor and his firm must jointly pay over £20,000 to a female employee after he sexually harassed her. The figure includes £14,000 for injury to feelings, aggravated damages of £4,000 and loss of earnings of £2,111, plus interest. You’d think he’d know better… Evidently not.
My Personal Experiences
In my early career, I worked in IT recruitment between London and Frankfurt. I and a handful of female counterparts were hugely outnumbered by hormonally-charged 20-something male colleagues and older, wealthy male Directors, including the infamous uncle of Kate Middledon (but that’s another story). We all worked long hours, which didn’t lend itself well to lasting relationships.
What was considered as ‘banter’ there would be considered deplorable in another type of organisation. I have no doubt that environment toughened me up to the point that at one stage I could out-bloke the blokes.
Behaviour ranged from a colleague theatrically throwing himself at my feet whilst rhapsodising about my legs; being given the Outlook alias ‘My Lovely’ by my manager (much to his embarrassment when my team and I discovered this in a group email); to more sinister comments such as my manager and a colleague asking if I was up for a spit roast. And no, they weren’t inviting me to a barbecue…
Not for Sale
It’s not just been colleagues; clients have gone way beyond the line too. As a sales manager, taking clients out for business dinners was part of my job. Once, in Munich, a married client twice my age literally dragged me to a wooded area by the restaurant and put his hands all over me. He towered over me and we were out of earshot. Naturally, I was scared, but determined not to show it.
With a steely voice, I told him to back off and thankfully, he did. Usually I wouldn’t have been alone, but my male colleagues had other commitments that evening. As a result, we had to change the policy so that I would never be put in a vulnerable position again.
I’ve also been called arrogant in public by a new business contact at a conference. Apparently, I’d rejected his advances because ‘I was pretty and thought I was better than him.’ Nothing to do with the fact he was married and drunk, obviously…
These are just a few of the many examples that I can give and I know I’m not alone.
It’s not always like that. 2015 research by Approved Index showed that 65% of office workers have been involved in at least one workplace romance and 48% in two or more. Many relationships have emerged from meetings at work and when conducted with respect and professional boundaries, such relationships can be very successful.
As an Equality Act specialist, I once had a bizarre scenario where I was hired by a sports club manager to deliver Equality and Diversity training –for himself. His Board has required it following a grievance relating to alleged sexual harassment of a female employee. I’ve delivered such training on numerous occasions, but this was definitely a first.
I won’t share details of the case, but needless to say, inappropriate comments were made, once with alcohol involved. My training ended up with being more along the lines of coaching. He had managed the club for many years and had been feeling ashamed, stupid and worried about his job.
At the end, he thanked me for my non-judgemental approach. Mostly, my guidance was about how others perceive things and what is and isn’t appropriate in a workplace context, including out-of-hours events.
I also have an example of a situation that could have had a completely different outcome. Recently, a friend, who is high up in a professional services firm, went to make tea. Two colleagues, including a male colleague, were already in the narrow galley kitchen. As he reached to get the milk, his arm brushed against her chest.
As big-boobed women know, breasts sometimes get in the way. Knowing it was accidental, she laughed and said “boob brush,” to his visible relief. By naming it in a lighthearted way, she diffused the situation.
In her article, Cindy Gallop writes “When you lose that sense of shame, when you feel comfortable and confident in yourself as a sexual being, it transforms your outlook and approach to life, and to work.”
I say, in the words of the fabulous Aretha Franklin:
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me,
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, take care”
A bit about me: I’m an experienced Board member who also happens to be female, of an ethnic minority background and usually younger than my fellow Directors.
Directorships remain largely a man’s world and it takes a certain kind of woman willing to operate in that space. My signature coaching programme, LOVE (You) addresses this gap. I created it so that other female leaders can benefit from the support that I lacked.
With 18 years’ professional experience up to Board level, I’ve combined extensive research, tested executive development techniques and effective coaching tools with deeper self-directed work.
LOVE (You) is delivered in a flexible way, through workshops in confidence and self-awareness, public speaking, blogging and how to engage through social media; to training in equality law and diversity.
Get in touch to discuss how I can help.