The #metoo social media movement is uniting women around the world as they share their experiences of being sexual assaulted and harassed. Their posts have raised awareness of how many women have been affected and more work needs to be done to achieve gender equality.
It’s easy as a credit union leader to dismiss sexual harassment as something that happens in other offices, even though the EEOC ranks banking/finance as the industry with the most sexual harassment incidents. That’s because bullying of women is legendary on Wall Street. The credit union community is more inclusive of women and overall, isn’t as competitive and ego-driven.
However, sexual harassment is so common, it eventually happens in every work environment, including credit unions. It doesn’t always take the obvious form of the lewd activities detailed in the Smith Barney “Boom Boom Room” lawsuit of the 1990s. Sometimes, the harassment occurs in a gray area, and creates a hostile environment for employees while going unnoticed by management. This behavior might not even hold up if used as a basis of a lawsuit. However, win or lose, all lawsuits drain resources, and any unhealthy work environment costs an organization good talent and lost productivity.
Here are three types of unlikely male harassers I’ve observed in credit unions that you may not realize are jeopardizing your liability and productive work environment.
The Creepy Casanova
This person makes advances toward an employee, usually someone who is new and hasn’t yet developed trusted relationships with co-workers. The advances typically aren’t threatening; in fact, they are often rather sweet. This person displays inappropriate “puppy love” behavior, bestowing unwanted romantic gifts and cards on the victim. The Creepy Casanova usually has a reputation as a nice guy around the office, although fittingly, he’s also a little creepy. But because he seems like a geniunely nice guy, especially to a new employee, it’s difficult for the victim to be firm enough to stop the unwanted attention for fear of hurting his feelings or making enemies at work. Unfortunately, he doesn’t take obvious hints like failure to reciprocate, disclosure of a boyfriend or husband, or blatant attempts to avoid him around the office. Eventually, the victim will tell someone, and word will spread until someone in the office tells The Creepy Casanova to knock it off or else they’ll notify human resources. So he usually does, until another pretty young woman is hired and the cycle begins again. This behavior could potentially escalate into a stalker or even violent situation and must be brought to the attention of human resources.
This man pressures female co-workers into hugging him under the guise of friendship. Like the Creepy Casanova, he usually has a reputation for being a nice guy and isn’t overly aggressive. It’s hard to speak out against The Hugger, because doing so might make the victim or observers seem unfriendly, rude or too easily offended. But make no mistake: The Hugger isn’t interested in promoting the universal brotherhood of man. He just wants to press his body up against women. I’m a hugger, and that’s not uncommon in the credit union industry. We’re huggy people. When you’ve worked with someone for years, as many of us have, you become close friends. But if you’ve developed a bond that allows for acceptable hugging, you know if the recipient feels comfortable being hugged … and if they don’t. If you don’t know someone that well, you don’t know them well enough to engage in that much physical contact.
The Clueless Chauvinist
This man, usually older, makes inappropriately sexist comments and oftentimes doesn’t even realize he’s being sexist. In fact, his sincere intention may be to flatter the recipient. Like the man who remarked that because a new female CEO is unmarried and doesn’t have children, she’ll be successful because she must be a real “ball buster.” Or the man who told a woman how remarkable it is that even though she’s very intelligent, she also likes to make herself look pretty. These are real comments male credit union leaders, some you may know personally or by name, have made within the last year. There aren’t as many of these guys around as there were 20 years ago, thanks to attrition through retirement. And again, they seem to think they are flattering the subject. However, they nonetheless create risk for your organization if their comments demonstrate a pattern. And the very least, derogatory comments toward women won’t create a positive work environment or help you retain quality talent.
I’ve seen men on social media comment that the #metoo movement is uncomfortable for them, because they are horrified and don’t know what to say or do to solve the problem. The answer is awareness. Armed with the knowledge that this behavior occurs everywhere, even in credit unions, both men and women can more easily identify it and feel confident enough to stop it. This will create a more comfortable and productive work environment, and more successful credit union.