HR Enabler or Enforcer: A Refresher

News of widespread sexual abuse/harassment of women has hit the proverbial fan. No industry, organization or political party is exempt. While reprehensible, sexual harassment is not surprising. The objectification of women is clear in every culture on the planet Earth. Sexism, excuse the pun, is the ‘mother of all isms.’ Our culture is no exception. Sexism is “as American as apple pie.” Men hitting on women is nothing new. Men using their position and power to coerce women into bed is also nothing new.

What is new is that women in droves are now taking advantage of this moment in time to expose the heretofore powerful and untouchable men — who assume that women are ‘game’ that they can hunt and harass at their leisure or whim. Chasing and badgering women use to be “Game on!” and a uniquely male perk. Today, such behavior is quickly becoming taboo and career ending. The workplace has and remains the arena where sexual contact and conquest has enjoyed its longest run. Thus, the role of Human Resources is being brought into sharper relief.

The HR function must play two different roles, as both the agent of the company and the advocate of the employee. As the agent of the company, HR job is to represent the company’s vision, mission, goals, and decisions. Similarly, HR must protect employee rights while guaranteeing a workplace that is safe physically, psychologically and emotionally. Sexual harassment violates all three rules of safety—physical, psychological, and emotional. Given HR’s charter as the employee’s advocate, why is sexual harassment still so rampant in our companies and organizations? The answer is simple. HR is too close to the centers of power. The career trajectory of an HR professional, too often, depends on how well they ingratiate themselves to the powers that run the organization. Is the HR professional man or woman independent enough to take on an influential person rumored to be a sexual predator? Or, does the HR representative see the protection of an alleged harasser as part of their agent role versus investigating a sexual harassment claim?

Regrettably, too many in HR are fearful of taking on the big boys in the organization. The conflict is between doing the right thing for the complaining employee and their own career trajectory. They don’t want to alienate or piss off someone who could make or break their career. Thus, they end up soft-pedaling the complaint or casting doubt in the minds of the complainant about what happened. They might suggest that what happened is being misinterpreted by the woman or that the offending behavior was unintentional. The HR representative might even suggest that the event or situation resulted from something she did or wore. Sometimes, the HR person might pretend to take the complaint seriously and then give a friendly warning to the alleged perpetrator to cover his tracks or come up with a credible defense. The nexus of a professional relationship and friendship can undermine a serious investigation of the complaint. Even more disturbing to the woman is the real possibility that the burden of proof will lie with her and not the alleged harasser. Getting a reputation for complaining about a powerful man can be a career derailer.

As an advocate for employees, the HR professional should adhere to a consistent protocol when told about an alleged harassment claim. Explicitly, when informed of a potential case of harassment, HR should ensure the following steps become a part of the intake process when told about an alleged harassment incident:

1. Make no judgment about either the woman’s or the man’s character.

2. Do not re-interpret what the woman says as an attempt to sanitize her complaint. Record what she said and do not interpret what you think she said.

3. Without equivocation, ensure that an impartial investigation will take place.

4. Reassure the complainant you will make sure, regardless of the investigation outcome, that no recrimination against her will occur.

5. Objectively investigate the complaint and make the alleged harasser aware of the issue and the consequences, if found to be legitimate.

6. Keep the alleged harassers’ boss in the loop. Emphasize that there should be no contact with the complainant.

7. Early on protect yourself. Establish to all that you intend to be an ‘honest broker’ during and after the investigation. Let all know that after the investigation concludes, you will let the “chips fall where they may.”

In closing, the advice shared in this article, notwithstanding, investigating sexual harassment claims against powerful men is a dicey proposition. Always do the right thing. Still, watch your back.

The Real Rebel Flag

Flags are imbued with the values, sentiments and aspirations of the nations, states, cities, organizations or groups that honor and fly them. Often hoisted high above throngs of amped up individuals, the flag is a visible and material reminder of what a particular group stands for or values. Flags can evoke passionate emotions of love, hate or fear. Flags carry a very loud, non-verbal, yet, specific and irreducible message. In the USA, the American Flag carries the message that we stand for truth, justice and democracy. However, in other places around the world, our flag, unfortunately, carries the message that we are there to impose our way of life and values on the indigenous population whether they like it or not. Flags are not value neutral. Flags say what they mean and mean what they say.

The recent flap surrounding the Confederate flag is all the more surprising because we all know what it stood for and still stands for today. No, it does not represent youthful rebelliousness; nor, does it truly represent the heritage of a particular region of these United States of America; and, most importantly, it does not represent truth, justice and freedom. Put simply, it is the musty artifact of a defeated insurrection against our government. What the Confederate flag represents is the attempted perpetual dominion of one group of human beings over another group. In other words, the cry of the secessionist southern states preceded George Wallace’s “Segregation Now. Segregation forever.” Instead, the rallying cry of the boys in grey was ‘Slavery Now. Slavery Forever.’

Prior to the Great Migration of the 1940’s, the majority of African-Americans had toiled, been lynched, dehumanized and marginalized in the South. And, while their experience differed markedly from whites in the South, southern blacks have as much of a claim to Southern heritage as their more privileged white brethren. So, the argument that the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern Heritage is tantamount to saying that the Nazi Swastika represented German heritage. Lest we forget, Jewish people in Germany were Germans. So, clearly both the Swastika and the Confederate Flag represent a failed attempt to either eliminate a group of people or, in the case of blacks, to keep them as chattel property. Both flags are abhorrent reminders of man’s inhumanity to man.

For over 150 years, the victorious North has mollycoddled and enabled the defeated white South. Our central government allowed the wholesale disenfranchisement of black southerners, thus allowing white southern racists to control the most powerful committees in our national Congress. We permitted the construction of statues lining the streets of Richmond, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina and other southern cities paying homage to “war heroes’ intent on keeping my people in bondage. And, every day of a black southerner’s life, he/she must be reminded of those very men who sought to keep them as work animals. Again, it would be akin to having statues of Hitler and his generals lining the boulevards of Berlin.

No, the Confederate flag is not the symbol real rebels should adorn their homes and clothes with to assert their independence. Instead, how about hoisting the American Flag—the real rebel flag. While not always perfect in living up to it, the genesis of our national flag grew out of an aspirational vision: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal. Endowed by the creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness…”


Can You hear us Now?!

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And, let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

–Senator Barry Goldwater, Conservative Icon

If I say, “Save the Whales”, it doesn’t mean I don’t care about how tunas are hunted. No one would retort, “All Ocean Life Matters.” However, the slogan “Black Lives Matter” [BLM] has proved to be a source of irritation for a lot of White and Black Americans. For many, this defiant slogan is the ultimate example of playing the so-called ‘race card’. These same detractors see celebrating “white power” and a defeated and traitorous Confederacy as being patriotic. I have not heard anyone accuse those advocating ‘white power’ as playing the race card.

BLM has spawned a multi-racial, multicultural and multi-generational populist movement. BLM seeks to be an anti-racist movement that asks, “Can you hear us now?” They realize that for America to live up to its aspirational vision of justice for all, we must protect the most vulnerable in our society. What’s unique about the BLM movement is that it has deviated from the long tradition of national movements looking for a singular spokesperson. BLM groups are local, leaderless and pesky. However, local protests under the aegis of Black Lives Matter are subject to being infiltrated by apolitical hoodlums and political provocateurs. Additionally, the platform that the founders of the BLM movement have endorsed is controversial, even among Black Americans who believe in the importance of a nuclear family.

Systemic racism has resulted in Whites being either conscious or unconscious perpetrators of an unfair and discriminatory way of life for Black Americans. Conscious racism is unabashedly virulent in opposing justice for Blacks and other marginalized groups. No one in America can deny that Black lives are in jeopardy. Not only are rogue police to be feared, but Black lives are undermined by not having the same quality of medical care, food, housing, transportation, jobs and recreational outlets available to most white neighborhoods. The neighborhoods that many inner-city Blacks can afford are often terrorized by predatory gangs. Let’s get real. BLM applies not only to Whites who murder Blacks, but also Blacks who murder each other.

When the larger society does not value Black lives, the inner-city thugs think that they have a get -out- of- jail free card. We need to work together to stop these killings. As many neighborhood activists have done, Blacks must break the code of silence about Black on Black crime. To achieve this openness, the trust and relationship between the police and inner-city denizens must be improved. Unlike Whites, many Blacks are reluctant to call the police because they are unsure how they will be treated–even as the complainant. White Americans must actively become anti-racist. As a White American, declaring oneself anti-racist is more than a notion. Such a declaration is a radical and risky act. Anti-racist Whites must have both courage and a thick skin. Whites taking an anti-racist position will often alienate themselves from family, lose friends and incur the wrath of the conscious racists. This historical moment is a roll call for those who really believe in America as the “home of the brave and the land of the free.” When future generations look back on these times, what side will you be on?