By Lewis Brown Griggs
As Oprah Winfrey said with such passion at the Golden Globes Awards, “Their time is UP!” and “There will one day be a time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me Too’ again!”.
Compliance is never enough. It is not the source of honesty, transparency, equity, or respect. Compliance is only about discipline to not cross beyond a certain degree of indecency and therefore can never be fully relied upon to create real safety, whether at work or community or intimate relationship.
Some of us in the Diversity & Inclusion & Equity movement have long insisted that anti-sexual harassment compliance alone would never be enough to stop the depletion of energy in interpersonal relationships at work which are too often infected by uninvited sexual dynamics. We have certainly seen some improvement when it comes to laws and regulations around sexual harassment. Courts and HR departments are well-versed in the letter of the law, and sometimes even selectively mete out punitive consequences. However, nearly half of all women are still experiencing some form of sexual harassment at work, and about a third of men say they have done something sexually inappropriate just within the last year.NYT, 12/28/17)
Despite the overwhelming prevalence of men (usually in more powerful positions) sexually abusing women, some inappropriate sexual behavior and harassment can of course also originate with women, and it exists in every race, age, culture, class, nation, religion and sexual orientation. So no matter in what body the perpetrator lives, as Oprah Winfrey said with such passion at the Golden Globes Awards, “Their time is UP!” and “There will one day be a time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me Too’ again!”.
Beyond Legal Compliance, and even beyond what some would call mere Behavioral Compliance, when the behavior itself is not illegal and perhaps not even inappropriate but the energy can still be felt to be inappropriate and/or undesired, there are three key levels of consciousness that should be taught and integrated to make workplace relationships most highly successful and productive:
1 – LESS IS BEST … Whichever person seems to prefer less conversation, connection, or especially touch, is the best (and only) balance to honor if safety is to be maintained. From that place, one then has the opportunity to enhance the trust, and therefore the energy, with which to co-create whatever is the common goal in that relationship or team.
2 – FEEL ENERGY … Notice that in every interpersonal interaction it is possible, almost immediately, to feel the energy within and between people become either enhanced or depleted. If the other seems depleted by the interaction, I can ask myself if I am responsible in any way for having caused or at least triggered the other’s negative reaction by my words or actions or even just my energy, and if so stop it and own it and apologize and start over since we can only correct and improve ourselves, not others. If I’m the one who feels depleted by the interaction, I can try to notice if the other is in any way responsible for having triggered or even caused my negative feeling, and if so I can try to redirect the other by letting them know, or I can protect or remove myself, or I can actively seek help. The key here, however, is that nothing at all needs to have visibly occurred which meets the harassment definition, but someone can still have been violated by ENERGY and feel unsafe in their workplace.
3 – DEEPEN TRUST … The way to enhance the trust, comfort, and closeness in each relationship in the team (no matter what the hierarchy of title) is to communicate with absolutely 0% Power Energy over or under one another, and connect with absolutely 0% Sexual Energy over or under one another (“over or under” in this context could be translated as “pushing or pulling” sexual energy, both of which are inappropriate and can feel abusive). The degree to which both 0% Power and 0% Sexuality are accomplished becomes the degree to which trust and closeness are experienced and co-creative productivity is enhanced.
For example: The following week I learn that our new team-mate is a beach volleyball player, and I tell her that my wife also plays informally on the weekends, so perhaps she’d like to join her. I am the team manager and she’s pleasantly surprised by my offer, but she notices that I have no hierarchical or inappropriate energy and she’s delighted to be introduced to my wife. After a fun afternoon of volleyball with a group of new friends, our new team-mate feels safe with me because I gave her space, I approached her with no sexualized energy whatsoever, I introduced her to my wife, and now when I pass her in the hallway she knows I am a colleague she can trust not to cross her boundaries.
While legal compliance is never enough, it is of course necessary. Personal, interpersonal, organizational, and systemic effectiveness must be managed in every organization, and organizations can only survive when their policies and practices are updated and complied with. However, the key is that every system begins with the quality and integrity of the individual, and it only works because its individual parts are uniquely different and relate to one another in a way that complements and enhances their combined effectiveness. If one part is even slightly damaging, excluding, or diminishing another in any way, the whole system will suffer and potentially break down completely. As such, it is only with the valuing of human diversity that an organization can thrive, and this begins with the authentic personal valuing of every human being.