Two of these words together are not appropriate for the workplace. Most of these words together shouldn’t be combined in any context in the workplace.
Some time back, a reader shared an event with me where these words were part of a safety training meeting. For anonymity, I will not disclose geography or industry.
To be clear, this did not happen at an organization that recently reached their Headcount Quinceañera. This happened at an international organization that’s been in existence for decades and has thousands of employees.
Picture this: It’s the close of a required safety training attended by various levels of technical professionals - 40% of who identify as female. The consultant hired by the company displays an image similar to the one below titled “Why Women Really Live Longer Than Men” and then warns the females that…
…they can be distracting to males in their workplace and therefore should take great care in what they wear.
Some of the women in the audience asked some clarifying questions like “Are you really trying to say that my existence is dangerous to my coworkers?” To their credit, some of the men in the audience voiced their concerns and objections, including being lumped into men who cannot treat coworkers with respect because of their gender.
In an attempt to diffuse, the company rep responsible for bringing in the speaker doubled down in support of the speaker saying:
"To be fair, I myself have been told by some of the male employees that when they see the female employees in the uniforms, they are sexually aroused".
SPOILER ALERT: “Sexually aroused” is also a phrase not appropriate in the workplace (unless it’s a medical facility dealing with sexual health issues speaking to their patients).
Also spoiler: that statement did not diffuse the situation and reports quickly (thankfully) made their way to HR.
Where did this go wrong?
I would only be able to speculate on where this went wrong since I was not part of the investigation. Some thoughts for different outcomes:
Review materials beforehand - When working with consultants, ask for a slide deck and/or handouts of the material they are presenting ahead of time. It’s possible the offending slide could have been caught prior to the training, removed, and consultant explicitly told this type of content is unacceptable and inappropriate.
Support and enforce EEO and company guidelines – Company rep could have interrupted the meeting when the slide came up and consultant began the offensive comments and asked the consultant to step outside.
Company rep could have asked the consultant to come back in the room and apologize for the content.
If consultant refused to apologize, the company rep could have asked them to wait in a separate room and then company rep could have returned to apologize and reassure all employees in the room that the company does not support those types of comments. They would also state they plan to follow up with HR directly and encourage others to do likewise
Report unacceptable behaviors – The company rep should have summarily shut down any prior comments made by employees regarding other employees’ bodies or the way they look. They should have reported this to the supervisor and/or HR.
Retrain regularly – refresher courses are essential. Maybe the company rep forgot that the consultant doesn’t get a pass because the consultant is not an employee. Organizations are responsible for the words and actions of not only employees but also their agents and even non-employees.
We have a responsibility to create and maintain a workplace free from harassment or marginalization of any kind. It sounds like the attendees of the above training take that to heart, while wearing uniforms, doing their jobs and regardless of their gender. That’s progress.
Now if I could only stop certain people from patronizingly calling me “sweetie”!
What other steps would have helped?