You all need to be aware of possible sexual harassment in your offices. These allegations are surfacing across all industries today, and none of us can act like it is not a problem in our profession and in our offices. We all know that it is. It was a problem when I first started practicing law in 1979, and it is still a problem today.
If you see something, say something. Sexual harassment can be blatant or it can be subtle — like when a woman refuses advances from a supervising male colleague and ends up losing support for her work, receiving negative reviews, and eventually being forced out of the firm. The power differential in law firms is significant, and power gone wrong corrupts.
It is the responsibility of all of us to expose problematic workplace behaviors and cultures. We need informal complaint processes, qualitative surveys, focus groups and educational programs to raise awareness of the problems. Effective leadership in law firms includes addressing these issues sooner rather than later. Male lawyers have to be made aware of the seriousness of the problem of sexual harassment so that they stop being enablers.
These issues were addressed recently by Gretchen Carlson in a talk at TEDWomen 2017. Ms. Carlson, the former Miss America and news anchor, who, in 2016, bravely revealed her experiences with sexual harassment while she was employed at Fox News, correctly stated in her talk that the law profession is not immune from this same reprehensible behavior. “It’s from waitresses to Wall Street bankers to lawyers [and more].”
Here are some highlights from an article reporting an interview with Ms. Carlson where she further elaborated on her experiences and gave advice to victims of sexual harassment:
- It’s not fun to come forward if you have been the victim of sexual harassment. You don’t do it for fun or fame or money;
- Talk to a lawyer before you do anything else. Your HR department is not always the best place to report harassment because those employees’ jobs may end up being in jeopardy if they give value to what you report;
- Document everything that is happening to you. Keep a journal and take it home with you every night. Send copies of offensive e-mails to your outside e-mail. If you are escorted from the building because of your accusations and without an opportunity to return to your office, you will have preserved the evidence; and
- Tell someone, preferably two trusted colleagues, to have corroborating evidence and avoid the “he said, she said.”
Remember this advice from Gretchen Carlson, and also remember: If you see something say something.