Imagine you live in a state where the head of the Republican Party of the state’s largest city, a woman, defends her predecessor as City GOP Chair for his remarks widely interpreted as quote unquote Women are Lazy in a political battle over gender pay equity, a boneheaded remark made on the floor of the New Hampshire House of Representatives that went viral and garnered national coverage.
Imagine you’re a woman working for a major financial services company. You’re working for a failed politician, a man who few admire, most abhor, but whose political connections give him POWER.
Your boss was a bag man, a fixer and hatchet man for a popular politician, a well-liked man who remained well-liked as he had had your boss as a buffer. Turfed out of his job as the popular pol’s “fart catcher”, your boss won election to political office in his own right. His old boss, in turn, was soon defeated in his bid for re-election, and your boss then made a bid to fill that office.
The opposing candidate, now incumbent, chewed your boss up like a dog devours a rawhide bone, with the same results in the end: The victor left a hot, stinky mess.
This hustler has moved on and is now occupies a position thumping the tub for questionable “financial planning” products flogged by a company that uses a multi-level marketing paradigm based on using social networks and personal contacts to make sales, frequently under the guise of helping people start a business. Like Amway or other multi-level marketing companies, it is necessary for the business to keep recruiting employees, as one needs the employees’ contacts to market the products to THEIR friends and contacts. And then RECRUIT their friends and family members to join in to keep business volume up, as commissions are so low. “Agents” are also charged debits against prior commissions when a client cancels a policy.
It’s not so easy to make a living working for one of these companies. Stress is high. Like Alice in the Red Queen’s Race in Through the Looking Glass, one has to keep running just to stay in place.
Your boss, who receives a cut of your income, is not a financial planner in the traditional sense, but the head of the local chapter of what essentially is a nationwide Ponzi scheme that demands a constant influx of new customers, and new marketers, to keep ahead of the game. The hustler keeps on hustling. Once a bag man, always a bag man.
There is a secret which is not much of a secret among the employees: He is a sexual predator.
Finally, you’ve had enough with the sexual harassment. You blow the whistle. And the major financial services company, which has a rather poor reputation among more ethical firms, is nonplussed — not in the sense of being perplexed, as is formal English, but as in the colloquial, North American sense of being “undisturbed”.
This is a firm with a 50% turnover rate. Employees are disposable. The company is lawyered up. It has a commercial general liability insurance policy, plus directors and officers coverage. (And the insurers, in the chance there is a payout, have already laid off their risk with reinsurance companies.) The financial services company feels bullet proof, and thus, the powers that be who have chartered your boss and given him a fancy title wind up stonewalling you. It’s the Red Queen’s Race all over again.
If your boss were a yellow-eyed dog, he would be spayed so he wouldn’t continue to worry the neighborhood bitches when they are in heat, and once back from the vet, he’d be tied with a chain outside to prevent him from dry humping house guests.
Your boss escapes serious sanction. He is not terminated as your complaint is not taken seriously. Frustrated, you leave the firm.
And the harasser goes on harassing; the predator goes on seeking other prey.
A Matter of Civil Rights
Sexual harassment is a violation of a woman’s civil rights under federal law. There is a need in this country for education not only on civil rights, but on ways for people whose rights have been violated to seek redress in the courts. Lawyers, who pick and chose clients, often are not the best source of information for victims considering that big suit of revealing themselves and their humiliation by filing a lawsuit seeking redress.
A generation ago, whistleblower attorneys finally ensured that the rights of nuclear whistleblowers were protected by mandating the posting of their rights under federal law in nuclear power plants, were the need for feedback on bad practices was a necessity in the wake of Three Mile Island. Similarly, legislators need to make it mandatory that posters explaining the crime of sexual harassment and the process for seeking redress be mandatory in the workplace, on par with notices about one’s rights under labor law.
Sexual harassment often is rooted in skewed power relations. Despite the remonstrations of the New Hampshire Republican Party apparatchiks, men typically are paid more than a woman in a similar position (giving them more status and power), and certainly, when it comes to management, men more often than not are promoted to the higher positions, giving them power over their women subordinates.
A hostile work environment is based not only on power relations, but fear. Fear of retaliation, fear of being shamed by the perpetrator, fear of being fired and then blackballed in your field.
Sex harassers, and the corporations that shield them out of financial self-interest, allow hostile work environments to exist because not enough sex predators have been sanctioned. A first step towards preventing hostile work environments is removing fear from the workplace.
Women who are harassed, who blow the whistle on the harasser, and who are rebuffed by the corporate higher-ups when seeking redress, owe it to themselves, to other women, and to society at large to sue both the harasser and the company that has allowed the hostile work environment to fester. And it is up to legislators to ensure that victims have the guidance they need to do so.
The laws already exist: What is needed is knowledge. State legislators must work to ensure that fear is eliminated from the workplace.
The state needs to make it mandatory that informational guidance on the avenues by which victims can seek redress be made part of corporate sexual harassment policies, and that the rights of victims under the law, and the paths to seek redress, be posted conspicuously in the workplace.
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment web page is an excellent source on the problem and the solutions.