Tyranny In The Workplace? Gag Them With A Non-Disclosure
For the last number of months, the ground has been shifting under everyone’s feet, and there are no innocent bystanders, only lots of collateral damage to go around.
Sexual misbehaviour, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the workplace are not new. What is new is that women are for the first time, naming names.
In business, those with the power sometimes believe it’s within their purview to treat underlings as they see fit, and that sometimes can include sex. Or the right to openly touch, fondle and grope. Or intimidate with violence or implied violence. Or a litany of other inappropriate actions.
Currently, women are still making approx. .75 cents to every male dollar, further contributing to the imbalance. Calling men out on inappropriate behaviour is so fraught with anxiety and fear that up until now, its rarely been done.
When you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry, one that already contains systemic female repression, and then you add in sexual or physical aggression, what is the usual result?
Silence and compliance.
Until recently, victims who decided to report harming behaviour to management usually faced a standard response. Management would try to minimize the situation, organize apologies and mediate the working relationship with some new rules ongoing.
A goal in these negotiations’ is to keep everything on the down low. Don’t want to taint the company, don’t want to stain the perpetrators' reputation.
An essential part of managing this process is getting victims to sign a gag order, or NDA (non-disclosure agreement). When closing the file on a report, the victim will be told that they need to sign an NDA to receive any compensation or their final cheque.
It’s a double-sided sword. On one side you can sign, take the money, and everything is confidential. However, if you decide not to sign and make your accusations public, then you must weigh that against the economic security of the job you are holding, as well as the one you hope to have next.
Women work just as hard as men (some would say harder) to be taken seriously in male-dominated industries. We want to be here. We feel we deserve to be here. We also know that outing someone as a predator and levelling a charge against them that becomes public means that it’s you that will wear a scarlet letter. Other men will be afraid to hire you because of the “trouble” you have made elsewhere, or perhaps they won’t hire you in solidarity with the accused.
Sometimes companies will extend an offer because you are now a good deal financially. They’ll save money with that low-ball salary they’re offering along with a condescending “I’ll take a chance on you” attitude.
So, victims rarely talk, not even to warn others. For the victim, this creates further shame, guilt, and the overwhelming feeling that this is their fault.
Creating secrets like this are the toxicity that makes companies very sick on the inside.
Let’s step back for a moment and look at the why. Stars (in offices, on camera, on the mic) have power because they bring in big money. They are valuable to the company. They can show up late, leave early and misbehave without repercussion. They can cop all sorts of attitudes and behaviours that the receptionist or IT guy could never emulate without being fired. Then one day it goes too far, but nothing happens. Usually, the sense of entitlement grows with each offence that goes unchecked.
Jian Ghomeshi sipped from this fatal cocktail not long ago. Jian had the success, the confidence, the talent and the personality to allow his sexual interests to spread into his workplace without repercussion. He was well rumoured to be “handsy” with the interns and flirty with young, pretty women. Management knew and didn’t care much, mainly because he was one of CBC’s biggest stars and represented a more youthful, hipper version of our national broadcaster.
Once we all discovered that he (allegedly) liked hitting women without consent during make-out sessions, he was fired from the CBC as well as every other professional obligation he held. For our part, we helped shame him into seclusion, cheered as he was criminally charged and booed when he was acquitted. We also collectively admitted out loud that we hated his book.
Louis CK had the confidence in his talent (one of the most popular, prolific, edgy and biggest earners in today’s comedy. His power (being able to give fame and money just by association) and his sexuality (masturbation has been part of his standup for years) to get naked and then masturbate in front of women.
The answer to the question of 'why do they do it (whatever “it” happens to be)? is straightforward. It’s because they want to, and they can. The receptionist can’t, the IT guy can’t, but they can, and on top of it if they get away with it, it’s the biggest rush of all and proof of their importance.
What has fundamentally changed now that women are naming names is that owners have lost their appetite for protecting their stars. If women in our industry called out men like what’s happening with celebrities today, safety and parity for women working in broadcasting would improve immediately. That’s why all this, while painful, is such a good thing for women and those that respect them.
There are two issues that I feel need to be pushed to the forefront. First, not all offences should be treated equally (obviously there are degrees of harassment, etc.) so this one size fits all punishment has to change.
We also need to let some air in the room for discussion. Disagreement and opinion are essential and should be encouraged, not shut down.
What this turmoil does suggest is that more worthy women should be promoted up to power positions. That’s where and when real change, positive change will happen.
I have always suspected that one of the reasons we don’t see more women breaking through the glass ceiling is because women have never been part of this club that keeps these kinds of secrets or protects this type of intimidation, bullying and criminal behaviour.
Now and in the future women may well be the best and safest bet for senior management in your company. Do I need to add that we are still also the cheapest?