Careers and Leadership - what's sex got to do with it?

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The tsunami of news about sexual harassment in work and career may lift you up if you know how to surf it. Getting the right kind of help is critical.

Careers and Leadership - what's sex got to do with it?

If you’re having an emotional reaction, one you can’t quite name, to all the news about sex harassment and careers, it probably does have something to do with you. No, we’re not pointing fingers. Quite the opposite. It’s often the things that make us queasy that most bear talking about.

To anyone wondering if sexual harassment is something they do to others at work, we suggest you find an appropriate professional to talk to about it promptly. For the most part, people who don’t do it mostly don’t wonder whether they do it. For those who do: the tsunami is coming in at the moment.

But we’re talking here to people—not just women, though it does seem to affect women disproportionately—who wonder why they aren’t getting ahead in the workplace but aren’t getting ahead in their thinking about it either. As we hear exasperatingly often, it’s complicated.

What’s sex got to do with it?

That’s exactly what needs figuring out. And, like all the major issues in life, it’s something that we who think about things a lot are frequently least qualified to think through on our own.

One of the great conundrums of work life is advancement. Am I where I should be? Should I be farther along? Can I get there? Is something in the way?

There almost always is. And sometimes it’s us! And sometimes not. And sometimes it’s other people, particularly superiors. And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s chronic dissatisfaction—maybe at the idea of having to work in the first place—and sometimes it’s not. This is why it’s worth talking about.

It’s also why the discussion—if there’s going to be a discussion beyond the one you endlessly have with yourself—is best begun outside of work. It may very well have to be taken there in time. Many if not most times it will.

But can we talk? The problem is that we can talk, with our associates, and we want to for the immediate relief and potential sense of solidarity it might bring. But gossip around the water cooler and back-room politics within the managerial food chain are as often as not recipes for self-sabotage.

Dr Scott Berry | Certified MBTI Practitioner

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I thought we were talking about sex.

We were, and we are. But first some psychological foreplay of a safe variety.

There are nearly as many reasons for not advancing in work as there are people ruminating about it. Probably the biggest reason is fear—fear of change, fear of failure, fear of success—which is often the hardest to see of all. And it’s scary to talk about fear at first, which is why we start doing it with someone safe.

And then there are the more obvious ones. We love our jobs; we just hate our bosses. We’re tired of our jobs, but we’re used to them; there’s no harder job than looking for another job. We want to make more money; for now we need all the money we make, pretty much as we make it. We need a change—but we want to change our job, not ourselves.

We understand. And all those things, and the pros and cons about all those things, are very much worth looking at and talking about, and in subsequent posts we will.

But since the sex thing is in the air, in public, like it’s never been before, let’s not pretend that it’s not and take a look at it.

OK, so what do you mean about sex?

Good you asked. It’s not the same as gender, or sexual orientation. But there are times either of those things can be real (or, worse, imagined) barriers to advancement in your job, your industry, your country, your culture.

You’re probably not going to change your culture single-handedly. If women—or gay or trans or physically disabled people and/or people of color—are treated as second-class citizens, or lesser humans, in those climates, that’s not good. But neither is it a life sentence. In far more cases than not, you can change jobs, to something that allows you to work with self-respect and proper esteem.

But somewhere deep down, you’ve probably also absorbed the lesson that, because the culture etc., won’t change, you can’t change. There are literally millions of examples to the contrary. But they needed some kind of additional help changing their thinking, particularly about being stuck.

Dr Scott Berry | Certified 360-degree Practitioner

Leadership is a moving target. It requires us to get comfortable with almost continuous change. 360-degree, in the right hands, can motivate and help you! It evaluates the impact you have on the relationships around you, as you get the job done.

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Sexual oppression/harassment in the workplace/industry

That’s what’s being talked about publicly like it’s never been talked about before. So we’ll talk about it here.

As is becoming clear, sexual harassment in the workplace can take many forms. At one of its most basic forms, it’s unwanted—and, particularly, unsolicited (that is, by you)—sex-based attention in the workplace, or in the work context when travel and outside socialization is taken into account. It often takes the form of inappropriate touching—in private or in public, whichever protects the aggressor more—and suggestive comments that can be dismissed by the maker as rebuffed compliments.

It’s demeaning to be treated as a sexual object in any context, and frightening in one that involves a superior or someone who in some way actually has power over your job—salary, promotion, firing, esteem among colleagues. Damage at least as bad, in the short term and in the long run, is done by the repeated submission to the unwanted attention or outright demands.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that sexual favors actually are offered, hinted at, or outright demanded in exchange for continued employment, new employment, or, perhaps most often, advancement. We’re less shocked about the fact that it happens than we are by the revelations of how often it happens—how, in fact, common it is.

It’s powerful, frightening, and enormously destructive to the personal and professional esteem of the person being harassed. The invisible power of sexual domination is the sense that you have to comply—which, reinforced often enough, starts to become believable.

Then there’s the threat of shaming, even if not based on anything that actually happened. There’s the old office joke: “I dreamed about you last night, and if you had any idea what you did, you’d be so embarrassed.” It’s a bad joke because it works ninety-nine percent of the time. The person “dreamed about” takes on the implied shame and feels embarrassed. Office gossip, coming in any direction, can easily accomplish the same.

And then there are the sexual threats about an imagined employment future. A large proportion of the stories that are making the news right now are about people—most often, but not always, women—who are told, in so many words or in these words, “If you want to get anywhere in this business, you’ll have [some sort of] sex with me.” “Do what I want, or you’ll never work in this town [country/business/industry] again.”

What we’re learning is that working women—and women who want to work—in cultures and industries everywhere know this is as common as it is deplorable. The epidemic is not new. At the macro level, all that’s different is the particular tipping point it’s at right now.

What does that have to do with me?

Pretty much everything. The chances that you as an individual can turn a tide as strong as a deeply rooted pattern of abuse may not be great. But what that does not mean is that you cannot make changes, and the ones that are right for you and you alone.

A featured speaker on a November 10 CNN special about his subject was Anita Hill, a one-time law clerk for Clarence Thomas before he was nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court, a position he ultimately won. A quarter-century ago, in an act of astonishing courage, she spoke out about his constant sexual harassment of her as a reason he was not qualified for a position of greater legal and personal power. The powers that be, and that confirmed Thomas, tarred her for it at the time. But she’s only risen in public esteem since. It was she who said, clearly and decisively on cable TV, that now is the time things can change.

The enormous trends in public thinking at the moment notwithstanding, now is always the time that things can change, and, with help, the only time things can. In most cases what is needed is exactly not the “now” of impulsive behavior, the kind with the potential to backfire.

But now is the only time we can begin to take stock of all the issues at play in our professional—and personal—lives in the interest of being able to act on them appropriately, creatively, and, most of all, safely. And for most of us, our unaided self-examination is a recipe for, at minimum, stagnation on the dizzying wheels of the pros and cons and, at maximum, self-sabotage.

The reason for the expression “getting honest” is that it’s not where most of us start. It’s not, at all, that we’re fundamentally dishonest people. Rather, it’s precisely because we’re so interested in doing the right thing that we listen to all the conflicting voices about what that means—and don’t hear our own vocies, without judgment.

One of the biggest lies most of us actually tell ourselves is that there isn’t another job or that there isn’t another way to get one or move forward in the position or career we have. There is, and the thing most necessary is finding out the things we’re telling ourselves that keep us down, out, or in place.

What’s becoming clear is that in more and more professional situations there are ombudspersons or other agents/agencies where we can take our legitimate grievances about sexual harassment in the workplace. But they’re rarely the places to go first. To make the effect we ultimately want, a grievance has to be expressed in terms that will not further endanger us and, if not more important, that will get us where we genuinely want to be. And that's when we turn to someone qualified to help us with what's up with us as individuals, and help us up.

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