I feel really sorry for many male colleagues at the moment. Since the Harvey Weinstein story broke, the news has been laden with story after story about men who have misbehaved in the workplace. Actually, misbehaved is an understatement. Many of these men have groped/raped and bullied and it is only now that the conversation is open that women are coming forward and talking about horrendous experiences that have often affected them for decades. As a woman who has encountered such men in her career, I am absolutely elated that such behaviour will no longer be accepted. Men who use their position of power to intimidate and bribe women will be held to account and hopefully it’s the start of a new era of equality in the workplace.
But, there is another side to the story that worries me. With today’s papers publishing pictures of a colleague of mine who allegedly sent an inappropriate text 10 years ago, it worries me that we have started something of a witch hunt. Correct me if I’m wrong but there’s surely a big difference between a man who rapes a woman and one who sends an unsuitable text. Where do we draw the line?
One close friend and colleague told me that he is on constant high alert at the moment. He loves a bit of banter and is something of a flirt but he is aware that if he says the wrong thing to the wrong person, he could end up jobless and with his face strewn across the front pages. This saddens me. In my opinion a bit of light banter and flirtation makes the world spin. Work can be dull and stressful and fun interaction between male and female colleagues can make it a bit more manageable.
So as a man what can you do? Well here’s my list of what in my opinion is acceptable and what is not:
Pinching a colleague’s bottom (this happened to me two weeks ago and it is not OK)
Sexism (belittling or undermining a woman because of her sex)
Sexual bribery of any form
Unwanted text messages/emails that make a woman feel scared or uncomfortable
Overt and unwelcome flirtation
Flirtation with a female colleague who welcomes it and flirts back
Hugging a female colleague who is upset (ask if you can hug her first)
In fact, the key to surviving the current climate is asking permission and keeping the conversation open. There is no harm in saying “Please tell me if I’m offending you?” , “I hope it’s OK me saying this, but you look really lovely today” or “I see that you’re upset. Can I give you a hug?”
Look, I met my husband at work. Without flirtation in the work place and with fear on his behalf that he was causing offense in some way, would we be together today? I don’t know.
You can still be friendly and you can still flirt. Just don’t go too far, gauge the reaction of the woman in question and if she is in any way uncomfortable then STOP.