A guy walks into an office and asks for a massage. Sounds like the beginning of a joke you probably don’t want to hear, right? Me either.
Problem is, this happened recently to one of my colleagues in the Winnipeg Member Centre where I work. And I double-checked. I work for a union, and we do labour relations—not massage therapy. And the offending member who had the audacity to walk into our office that day and speak to my colleague like that . . . well, he knew it too.
I’ll be the first to admit that my formal expertise in the area of sexual harassment in employment is limited. The good news is that none of us need be subject matter experts to understand—or take responsibility—for our actions and behaviours in the workplace.
This is a message I need to hear because I have been a part of the problem myself.
Now hold on—wait to hear what I mean by that. The guy with the penchant for massage—I was in the room with him and a dozen other women and men a few months earlier.
I remember very clearly his use of innuendo and sexually charged language then. I remember I felt uncomfortable at the time. And I did nothing to stop it.
I remember being unsure of where the line was and whether he was near it, on it, or over it. I remember wondering if perhaps my own judgement was suspect, and whether I was simply overreacting to his smiling, aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-guy-routine. After all, this is construction right?
WRONG. He was wrong. I was wrong.
Perhaps more than anybody else, it is bystanders to harassment who are best positioned to help make a positive difference—and whose silence can also cause the most pain. After all, what’s worse than being targeted with harassment? Being targeted while surrounded by bystanders who see what is happening—and do nothing.
Two other guys were with Mr. Massage that day. They didn’t participate in the harassment. And they didn’t step in to stop it either.
Perhaps they were, like me, uncomfortable and confused about their responsibility in those moments.
A few weeks back, my wife and I told one of our sons that if he saw a bully targeting someone, and did nothing to stop it, he would be colluding with the bully. Our son is 10 and didn’t know what colluding meant, so I explained that to collude is to work with others secretly, especially to do something harmful.
I need to start following my own advice.
Those wink-wink, nudge-nudge comments—they aren’t okay. And it doesn’t matter if you are in construction or retail or healthcare or education. Human beings are intrinsically valuable and worthy of your respect—not to mention protected by human rights legislation.
So speak-up, take courage, then stick your neck out a bit. Take a deep breath and let the harasser know that what they’re saying is not cool, appropriate, or okay.
Plenty can be said about the role of employers in educating their workforce and creating safe working environments for all of their employees. In this case, both CLAC and the member’s employer took swift and appropriate action. That’s not laudable. It’s their duty as an employer.
And what of my colleague? She was relieved at the speedy and just resolution and satisfied that steps were taken to ensure this wouldn’t happen again.
And me? It’s not going to happen on my watch again. How about yours?