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Hold the phone. You know it’s the 90s when we’re discussing politics and sexual harassment.

I received a barrage of email from disaffected readers who are aggrieved by yesterday’s article on human resources, sexual harassment, and Fox News.

Aggrieved!

The emails fall into one of two categories.

  1. My advice was horrible.
  2. Chicks lie.

Let’s take the first objection first.

I wrote, “for every one victim [of sexual harassment], there are two who haven’t come forward.”

Some readers feel like that guidance is profoundly wrong.

The original bit of advice was bestowed upon me when I was a very young HR professional. It was back in the waning days of the first Clinton administration, which makes me feel very old. Here’s the quick story: I was working with a senior investigator from a prestigious HR consulting firm who was investigating claims against a member of our executive team.

You know what? His math played out.

Some readers weren’t directly offended by the mathematical formula, but rather, the assumption that someone is guilty before an investigation takes place. How can you do the math before you find out more information?

I’m bad at math. But when someone comes to me and tells me that she’s been sexually harassed, I tend to believe her. The burden of proof is so high that nobody in her right mind would make that up.

Is that wrong? I don’t think so. Call me a militant feminist — which is accurate — but I don’t like to hassle potential victims.

Now, on to the second major bucket of complaints: “Chicks lie, Laurie.”

Yeah, okay. Have women lied? Sure. But the rate at which women lie about sexual harassment reminds me of the rate of voter fraud in America: exaggerated.

I don’t find any problem in listening to someone and assuming she’s telling the truth. Then you investigate. And if you discover that someone has surely been sexually harassed, you can expect that two other women are remaining silent.

The math, in my professional opinion, stands.

So you can email me all you want, but I’m immovable on both points. And, for the two readers who accused me of being reverse-sexist, I’m just as supportive of dudes who have been sexually harassed at work.

When we discover that Roger Ailes sexually harassed twenty-five men at Fox News, I’ll criticize him thoroughly.

I totally love reader email messages, but sometimes I forget just how “human” and messy things can get in the world of human resources. I would just say this: if you’re ever in a position where you want to email me and defend Roger Ailes, just don’t. You are busy, and I won’t appreciate your nuanced and hyperbolic point-of-view.

Thanks for reading my blog!

8 Responses to Sexual Harassment and HR
  1. Tom Darrow

    Hi Laurie, Your math is wrong. 1+0 doesn’t equal 3. One accusation plus no other accusations doesn’t equal three accusations. Just because “his math played out” in one case doesn’t mean anything. One example doesn’t make a valid sample size. Remember that wrongly accusing someone of something they didn’t do also makes them a victim. You are correct….in many/most situations, I’m guessing the accuser is right and believable (I don’t think most lie). Still, HR can’t take your advice on this one or we’ll get in trouble. We must remain objective, conduct a fair investigation and then respond accordingly based on the facts of the individual case. WAY too many people these days (can I say “politics”?!) are making critical decisions on assumptions and not facts. It’s very dangerous and unproductive.

    • ruettimann

      You’re right. One accusation that’s proven true means there is one accuser who’s a victim and two others who remained silent.

      Math is hard.

      That math started in 2000 and has proven itself true throughout my entire career. If anything, it’s been higher.

      We can be objective and also informed about human behavior at the same time.

    • Colleen

      Thinking the accuser is believable/right does not automatically mean that the HR pro can’t be objective when conducting the resulting investigation–assuming so is insulting.

  2. Rob Weatherly

    One of the biggest challenges of being a male in the HR profession is that I perceive (and have been told as such) that some women don’t feel comfortable discussing the circumstances of their harassment with a man. When an employee comes forward with accusations of harassment, I flip on my objectivity switch and gather details. Facts. Eyewitness accounts.

    What I’ve found in almost every investigation validates Laurie’s point – somewhere along the way I encounter a witness to or a reference to someone else being harassed by the accused. Can it be substantiated in every case? Of course not. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, though, and we owe it to our employees and our own integrity to consider that harassment is rarely, if ever, a one time thing.

  3. cory appleman

    you rock!

  4. John

    I knew a woman that went through the lawsuit process. They found a number of other women that were current or former employees that had been harassed by this manager. The lawsuit dragged through the court system for several years before it was finally settled.

    Then their attorney tried to keep the entire award for legal fees so they had to get a second attorney to threaten to sue the first one. He relented. Each one received a payment worth about 2 weeks of pay. Of course, they still had to pay income taxes on it.

    Nothing happened to the guy. He was a part-owner in a private company.

    I doubt those women will ever report it again or advise anyone to report it after their experience

  5. ita

    Yeah. I thought your math was wrong, too! (I’m also bad at math) But my first instinct was, “ONLY 2! I think not!”

    But of course I prefer the 2nd objection. Chicks lie, dude!

  6. Tony Coyle

    As a man, I can only comment as a third-party observer. As such, over my more than two decades in HR consulting, I’ve seen sexual harassment in operation across three continents.

    I’ve seen blatant misogyny, along with old-school gender-role assumptions.

    I’ve seen men (and, I have to say, it’s always men) try to take advantage of other cultures’ norms (on a team with brazilians and americans – the brazilian ‘kiss/hug’ on meeting was often misconstrued by the americans – and often led to ‘a frank behavioral discussion’ with those people).

    I’ve seen, and attempted to counter, sexual harassment and misogyny multiple times every year.

    It’s pervasive.

    So is Laurie’s math wrong? Only in the sense that I think that iceberg is way deeper. For every woman brave enough to raise her head, I’m pretty sure there are many more than two keeping their heads down.

    I do have one bright thought to close on: I’ve definitely seen a change in PUBLIC behaviors over the past decades. What was blatantly acceptable 20 years ago is no longer publicly acceptable. That doesn’t mean it’s gone away – but it does mean that the behaviors are no longer visible – as a misguided direction for men climbing the ranks, and as a ‘norm’ for women in the workforce. They no longer see that behavior, so they are less likely to assume that behavior is normal.

    Finally: with so many strong empowered women in the world, I hope that more women feel empowered to tell these assholes NO! loudly and clearly, and that HR and other leaders LISTEN and respond.

    IF there is one silver lining from the Fox farago, it is that Fox chose to request Ailes’ resignation, rather than unilaterally support their favored CEO and hide behind arbitration. If it can happen at that level, how much support will there be for a middle-manager?