The field of human resources took it on the chin, this week, with the sexual harassment claims from Uber and Google and Tesla and Sterling Jewelers.

I’m not sure HR practitioners knew they were being blamed, but in talking to journalists and business leaders, one question kept coming up over and over again.

“Why have HR at all if this is still happening?”

It’s a legit question, and I don’t have a great answer. We have HR for all kinds of reasons that have everything to do with protecting the enterprise and very little to do with protecting the workforce from sexual predators and skeevy guys in IT. It’s not that your local HR rep is disinterested or dispassionate about sexual harassment. It’s just that she’s disempowered to do anything.

But I was corrected by smart journalists, this week, who noted that women claimed to have notified HR. Those women were, allegedly, ignored by HR. That’s the reporting.

So, this week, I had to stop in my tracks and ask myself, “Why am I defending HR? Doesn’t that make me part of the problem?”

Because I don’t understand how people who work in HR — with 100% more women and POC and LGBT workers than almost any department in a company — are comfortable working with leaders and employees who behave in despicable ways.

Some say it’s Stockholm Syndrome. You assimilate to survive. Others say that you’re trying to distance yourself from the problem to protect yourself. If you point out deviant behavior and try to do something about it, you put yourself at risk of being a victim.

But if you work in HR and someone complains to you about a legitimate problem, it’s your job to be the Jordan Horowitz of your organization and fix what’s wrong. If you can’t fix it, leave. Share your personal story on Glassdoor. Let your “truth” be helpful and inform other women/POC/LGBT candidates who might consider working for your organization.

So, I’m done defending HR. It’s not my job, it’s not very fulfilling, and I might be perpetuating the lifecycle of an outdated institution that should probably go. But if you work in HR, remember that’s it’s your job to go first and fight sexual harassment in a company. Be loud and make a difference for your workforce. Get angry when you see outrageous behavior and turn that anger into action.

Maybe reporters will start calling you if you do your jobs right.


  1. Once you know, and don’t do anything about, an issue, you are as culpable as the individuals responsible. Same as the auditors who sign off dodgy business accounts.

  2. I can give you at least one reason that these questions are being floated (again). I’ve heard them before over the years.

    One big one that I have seen and experienced is that the person reporting a problem to HR or management (sexual harassment or otherwise) frequently is thought to BE the problem. Sad, but I’ve seen people report serious problems to HR and be penalized or terminated for made-up reasons for their effort. In this “at will” world, some people weren’t even given a reason. They were just told to clean out their locker/desk and go.

    And believe me, the other employees notice when that happens. So do the harassers and it’s an understatement to say that it has a chilling effect on would-be reporters.

    I once witnessed a horrendous example of sexual harassment (a C-level exec against a young, female employee) at one employer. Several people witnessed it, but I was the only one who reported it. I was soon ostracized and discovered that he had been reported for harassing young, attractive women for years and the HR Department would just go after the reporters…and the HR Manager was a woman. They had long known about him and his actions, but simply turned a blind eye for whatever reasons. I can say that the man was hated, feared, and despised by most of the employees.

    Smart? No. They lost a lot of good people, both the harassed and the witnesses that simply couldn’t stomach it any longer. I was not surprised when the company folded into Chapter 7 on a Christmas Eve, stranding crews and passengers on both sides of the Atlantic with no recourse. I keep tabs on the harasser to this day on LinkedIn, just to make sure to stay FAR away from any employer witless enough to hire him.

    I heard it muttered more than once behind his back that he should avoid walking through dark hangars, lest an accidentally dropped toolbox land on his skull…

  3. At the risk of sounding like I am defending (I am not – bad behavior is bad behavior) – I have also had several instances as an HR Rep where reports of such behavior have been provided to me at ‘opportune’ times. Such as when a PIP is coming or when there is an agreement amongst a team that they want someone to be managed out of the organization.

    Bad behavior is bad behavior – it needs to be dealt with but you telling me about this bad behavior six to 9 months on, at a time that is clearly beneficial to you, makes me wonder (a) how complicit you are (b) how truly brutalized you were and (c) what type of behavior you are displaying.

    I agree – you see something – you call it. However, I have ended up firing both parties in these situations for very different reasons but they were both right decisions to make. There is a strong moral line but it is perhaps useful to remember that HR is not always presented with a black and white puzzle to deal with.

  4. It’s your #1 fan, Earl…

    Nope, you don’t have to defend HR, Laurie, but be careful not to paint HR with a too-broad brush. There are still a bunch of us out there, working everyday to get things done, make the world a better place, while at the same time not being afraid to break a boot off in someone who just doesn’t get it.

    Let’s go.

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