When I was climbing the TV News ladder, I had a boss in Milwaukee named Eric and Eric had a problem that caused a problem for everyone else. He was sexist. What made that even worse is that he didn’t know it.
Given this was the 1980s; you might have excused him as workplaces tended to tolerate a little more than they do today. But regardless of decade, I found his behavior completely unacceptable.
As the co-anchor of the noon news, my partner John and I shared responsibilities. We helped plan the show, write the show and deliver the content. We were equals or so I thought.
Following our broadcast one afternoon, Eric summoned us to his office.
“Who wrote the business report?” he inquired.
“I did,” I said.
“Well he shot back; from now on John will handle it.”
“Is there a problem?” I asked.
He answered by saying that the business report wasn’t credible when I read it because I’m female. I was stunned into silence, so he continued. He went on to explain that because John is male, he is far more credible when it comes to business and people will believe what he says. Then he tried to reassure me that his decision was nothing personal; but viewers prefer hearing business news from men.
Full of fury and disbelief, I told him his logic was absurd and accused him of being a chauvinist. Not one to handle subordinates questioning his pronouncements, he warned me to keep quiet threatening that if I didn’t, I’d be sorry.
Despite John’s whispering ‘let it go’ and trying to pull me out of the office, I looked my boss in the eye, told him not to threaten me and that he was completely out of line. So he suspended me, fortunately with pay.
In those days, in that newsroom, there was really no one to complain to. While there were women in management, they all answered to men and admitted they didn’t want to make waves as they had their own jobs to consider. But that was a time when only 2 percent of executives were female.
Today, while there are still more males in leadership positions than females, we’ve come a long way since women were primarily portrayed as housewives, and most professionals are more astute about what’s inappropriate and what’s not. Yet regardless of gender some of the same workplace behavior continues today.
Look no further than recent remarks made by Jenny McCarthy, co-host of The View, ABC’s popular daytime talkfest. When debating whether comments by actress Miley Cyrus were anti-Semitic, McCarthy said “I would always trust any Jew ’cause they know how to make money.”
When Barbara Walters called her on it, like my old boss, she didn’t understand what was wrong with what she said.
Instead of setting an example, McCarthy, like many celebs before her, didn’t even bother to apologize for offending people even if it was unintentional. But these unintentional or even seemingly innocuous comments can damage workplace morale if not addressed swiftly and properly by management.
For starters, it’s important for management to make sure employees know what is and what is not acceptable. It’s equally important that rules and consequences are clear.
In general, comments about religion, race, gender or politics should be off limits because frequently these remarks are taken out of context or offend when offense was not necessarily intended. Given that we spend more time at work than anywhere else, we tend to become comfortable with our co-workers and sometimes speak to them as we would speak to a spouse, partner or confidante.
Even when our co-workers become close friends who we share our private thoughts with, if they repeat what we said or someone overhears what we say, we could alienate others.
A few other guidelines to consider:
Jokes Are Not Always Funny
Off-color humor may have its place but not at work. Even if someone is poking fun at himself, someone else could be offended. So, ask the person to stop and if they don’t, report them to the boss.
Trying To Get A Reaction
Sometimes people say things just to see how you’ll react. I once worked with a cameraman who liked to talk about what he and his girlfriend did privately over the weekend. I quickly realized he took pleasure when he saw my discomfort. Once I stopped reacting and simply changed the subject, he stopped. Today, he might have been fired or sued.
It seems obvious that pushing, shoving, hitting and biting that typically occur in pre-school are not acceptable in any environment. When I was a young employee, an angry boss actually threw a typewriter through his office glass window. Everyone looked up and then went back to work.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 37 percent of American workers have been bullied at work. This includes yelling, threatening, cursing, spreading rumors, touching someone inappropriately and throwing things. All are no-nos.
Finally, managers should set examples for everyone else. It’s difficult to enforce rules if they apply to everyone else except you. And there’s another simple piece of advice that my mother always enforced when we were growing up. She said: if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.