“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
—The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
As the list of famous politicians and entertainment industry insiders accused of sexual harassment and abuse grows, most men have chosen to look at the Harvey Weinstein types and search for differences rather than similarities. They say, “Wow, I would never do anything like that!” To which I say, “Really? Are you sure?”
If that pisses you off, great. It’s supposed to. Because when we, as men, sit back and point fingers at infamous abusers, pretending those guys are the sole perpetrators of sexual harassment, we forget to look at ourselves and our own sexual misbehavior. And let’s face it, almost every man on the planet has, at some point in his life, engaged in inappropriate flirting, verbal objectification, pushing too hard for sex, and similarly inappropriate, harassing, and abusive sexual behaviors.
No, I’m not saying we’re all in a class with a guy like Harvey Weinstein, because we aren’t. I’m simply stating that none of us is without guilt when it comes to sexual misbehavior, and it’s high time we directed at least some of our “for shame” focus inward, examining our own behaviors to see where we might need to make changes and amends.
So, have you engaged in sexual harassment or abuse in your workplace? And how would you know? Below, I have listed some of the more common examples of workplace sexual misconduct. If you identify with one or more of these behaviors—directed toward a superior, a subordinate, or a coworker—you may be guilty of sexual harassment, even if it’s only on a small scale.
- Offering a sexual quid pro quo by stating or implying that if another person wants to keep a job or advance within the company, that person should engage in a sexual act with you.
- Being intentionally sexual toward someone in the workplace (or toward that same person out of the workplace) by making a sexual proposition, exposing yourself, showing the other person pornography, or engaging in any number of other sexualized behaviors.
- Purposefully creating sexual tension with someone in your workplace, even though you know it makes the other person uncomfortable, perhaps to the point of affecting that person’s job performance.
- Touching someone in an intentionally romantic or sexual way or in a way that the other person might interpret as romantic or sexual.
- Intentionally pulling a superior, a subordinate, or a coworker that you are sexually attracted to into “private” conversations that make or might make the other person uncomfortable.
- Intentionally standing or sitting closer than normal or sexually ogling someone in your workplace as a display of sexual interest.
- Intentionally telling sexualized jokes or engaging in “locker room banter” that makes or might make someone in your workplace feel sexualized and uncomfortable.
- Making derogatory remarks about the gender, body parts, or sexual orientation of someone in your workplace, or commenting on the appearance of someone in your workplace in intentionally sexual ways.
Basically, sexual harassment in the workplace boils down to intentionally attempting to sexualize a workplace relationship in ways that leave the other person feeling uncomfortable, no matter how subtle your talk or behavior might (in your mind) be. Do not ever delude yourself into thinking the other person “wanted it” and that makes your behavior OK.
If you think you’ve been guilty of workplace sexual harassment, you are not alone. And this does not automatically make you a bad person (unless your sexual misbehavior has escalated to Weinstein-like levels). It does, however, mean you need to take a good look at yourself and your workplace conduct.
The good news is that there are positive steps you can take moving forward. First and foremost, stop the harassment and abuse. Just stop it. After that, you might want to start therapy with a sex and intimacy specialist who can help you understand and address your problematic sexual behaviors. You might also want to anonymously consult with a Human Resources professional or a lawyer, preferably an employment law specialist, who can help you understand what the legal ramifications of your behavior might be.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is a digital-age intimacy and relationships expert specializing in infidelity and addictions. He is the author of several highly regarded books, including Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating. Currently, he is CEO of Seeking Integrity, being developed as an online resource for recovery from infidelity and sexual addiction. For more information please visit his website, RobertWeissMSW.com, or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.