I'm a little disgusted. In the wake of all of these sexual harassment allegations and watching hero after hero get accused of these improprieties, most happening many years ago, I can't help but to wonder how they've lived with themselves all this time knowing what they'd done. The fact that serial offender Harvey Weinstein was still able to succeed wildly and create a protected class of his own within his own organization is about as reprehensible as it can get. Now we've got chefs, more actors, political officials and tv anchors all finally getting called out for being the foul human beings they've always been.
So, what the hell is going on here?
None of us signs up to be disrespected in any way when we join a company. But, clearly, it happens. Still! I worked in Investment Banking during the dot com 1.0 heydays and was both witness to and victim of harassment, bullying and inappropriate verbal abuse. I used to joke that it's how I grew my thick skin, especially being a top Black, gay, male Executive Assistant in an industry dominated by wealthy, well heeled, White men. But I had thick skin already baked into my equation thanks to my slave ancestry so there's that. But witnessing grown-ass men making lewd comments, staring a little too long, and disparaging many of the Assistants I worked with over the years was something that never sat well with me. In fact, I remember doing a temp stint at a well known Venture Capital firm in Silicon Valley and witnessing one of the partners brazenly standing in his doorway for almost 5 minutes watching his Assistant physically file reports. She would be bent over this way one minute with cleavage on display by default and bent the other direction with a full view of her backside, not knowing that she was bringing immense pleasure to her predatory boss in the doorway. I finally quipped, "Um, that's not your WIFE," much to the amusement of the other Assistants who were watching in disgust. My assignment was ended the following day due to "fit issues."
I need to put this in no uncertain terms for the men out there who see no problem with the aforementioned. If someone else sees you ogling a woman in a way that could be deemed or even misconstrued as inappropriate, it probably is. We are all stuffed into a place of business and have to deal with our diversity, complexities, different backgrounds and upbringing. Some of us were born into privilege. Others of us were born in a barn. Some of us had a strong, female influence in our lives growing up. Others were raised by wolves. But the one thing we all have in common is our humanity. And at no point during the course of a workday should we feel in any way entitled to encroach on anyone's right to simply come to work, do an amazing job, and go home. When we go off script and start treating people in a way we know for a fact is not right or respectful or fair then we ruin the play. It becomes about us as the star instead of every actor on the stage contributing to the telling of the story.
Men, now is the time for atonement and to take a step back to do some self-analysis. Have you in any way been guilty of or complicit with someone being victimized by another person in your workplace? Have you lost reason for a second and joined in on ribbing someone a little too hard about a sensitive subject? Are those one or two inappropriate racial jokes in the bathroom during those awkward peeing sessions with a co-worker actually necessary? If only I had a dollar for every time I've been in a stall and forced to endure a joke or comment I would never say in public being bandied about like a beach ball at a summer concert by two idiots at the urinals.
Our species' evolution over the last decade or so has happened at a blindingly rapid pace. While technology has made our lives exponentially more efficient and just easier, we left etiquette and social graces to die alongside the encyclopedia. I keep wondering why there isn't a push to really include some sort of social etiquette class in the on boarding process at large corporations. Especially in today's climate. Coming from frat to Boardroom has, over time, robbed men of the opportunity to learn correct social behavior when women are present or what definitely not to say under any circumstances when anyone is within earshot. If they didn't learn it at home, and clearly most didn't, then it's likely not going to be part of what business etiquette they cobble together as they set off on the treadmill of career growth.
I recently witnessed a bunch of men on LinkedIn try and come for a woman who not only has a doctorate, but who specifically teaches women to become entrepreneurs. Several had the nerve to accuse her of discrimination with her female-only class, with one even threatening to sue her. Let me sip this Diet Coke real quick to try and get my blood pressure back down to a normal level before I LAUNCH.
1. Any man who feels discriminated against because he's "not invited" to attend a class specifically designed to help one of the most maligned, overlooked and disrespected classes in business should really check his balls at the front desk. Just give 'em up. You clearly don't need them. In fact, they should be confiscated and returned only when that reality check sinks in. Have you forgotten from whence you came, bruh? A WOMAN. Which, by default, entitles her to have certain privileges and associations that don't include a man. Period. She's done her work by birthing your ass or someone of your persuasion. Even if she hasn't given birth, she gets the female equivalent of a "bro pass" and is, therefore, allowed admittance by default. Dudes, don't do this. Get back in your lane and realize what's neither your business nor concern. Go start an exclusive, mens-only entrepreneurs club of your own. Oh, wait. You already have one. It's called the Executive Boardroom.
2. Cut it with the bullshit equality argument. There is none between men and women in business. I'm a triple minority so I know what of I speak. Yes, we are making strides to get us all on some sort of equal playing field. Yes, there are more and more maverick women forcing their way into some important Boardrooms. But sadly, YES there are men of every age who still feel that women are emotional, unreliable, cry too much, talk too much, are hypersensitive, and are less hardworking because they have kids. I teach a bunch of (majority female) Executive Assistants every Saturday around the world, many of whom are mothers as well. I know how hard I used to work as a top Assistant. And I've been single for the majority of my last 25 years in the role in order to climb to the very top of my career. I can't even fathom trying to do it with a husband AND three kids and maintain any sort of health or sanity. Especially dealing with the demanding, often borderline insane executives I've supported throughout my career. But women do it. With a smile. And pretty damned well, at that. And they come to my class to learn how to do it even better and more effectively with hopes that their bosses recognize how hard they're trying. That's it. Not looking for a marching band. Not really looking for one of those $50K bonus checks being handed out to the 25 year old, crack pot Engineer. Simply recognition of their insane efforts on a day-to-day basis that go largely unrecognized, unacknowledged and uncompensated.
I can't speak for all women, nor will I attempt to. It's not my place. But I will offer both advice and a male perspective. Women simply want to know that when they come to work every day they will be allowed and empowered to make an impact. They want the same opportunities, respect and inclusion afforded to every man in the building. They're not asking for any special favors or treatment. Just the opportunity and a safe enough environment to simply do their best work. Real men will remember those kitchen conversations they had with their mothers when they were younger about respect, opening the door first, pulling out a woman's chair, being gracious and polite. I'm gay as hell, yet I still open doors for women, pull out chairs, offer up my umbrella in the rain, etc. not because I'm looking for an award, but because my mama raised me right. I know I'm old school and some feminists may even want to take me to task. But, you know what, I'll never underestimate the love and sacrifice it took a woman to bring me into this world. And I owe the very fact that I'm alive, was raised with love and attention, taught respect and empathy, and able to build the life of my dreams TO A WOMAN.
I'm not really sure where men got off track here and literally forgot about where they came from. And I'm even more confused, dismayed and disgusted by the men who would break every Code of Honor in the Book of Life by feeling it is in any way okay to malign, mistreat, molest, rape, or humiliate the life force that IS a woman. The fact that it's not only happening but is systemic and has been so for decades gives us all a sobering view of the world we currently live in. And like me, we should be disgusted...not simply annoyed.
So, to the Doctor who's teaching women to become entrepreneurs I'd like to, on behalf of men everywhere (gulp!), offer our sincerest apology. A couple of our ducklings went astray and I've taken it upon myself to snatch their little asses back into line. Please continue to teach empowerment and independence to our mothers, little sisters, aunts and matriarchs and we'll cheer you on...from over here, tho. And to the same one or three dudes that came for this amazing woman, guess what? I teach and empower women to treat their roles like they are the CEO of their own businesses with their Execs (mostly men) as their #1 clients. So, technically, I'm doing the same thing as the doctor. But I'll say this. I'm far less classy than the good doctor. Come for me like you came for her. You'll get a whole lot more than you'd ever anticipated. #cashmeoutsideden
Men: DO BETTER. It's in you. Your own mothers put it there. Dust it off. Polish it up. And use it every day until it patinas. And then use it some more. We'll all be better thanks to THAT version of you vs. this entitled, coward-in-a-suit version that's pervasive in business today. We see you. And we're not amused. Get back in line.
Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.