In 2006, I did an internship at a now-dead investment bank in New York. During my first week in orientation, I remember sitting in a large auditorium with the rest of my summer analyst class. We had just endured several hours of listening to men in ties drone on about insider trading, compliance issues, and SEC regulations. Finally, a woman stepped up to the podium… hello, HR! We were talking about sexual harassment.
As interns, we would only be at the company for ten weeks… but apparently, we all needed a lengthy lecture about appropriateness in the workplace. The sexual harassment talk is akin to the private parts talk that mothers give to their five-year olds: “If someone tries to hug you, run away… No one should ever touch you there, except for the doctor… If someone does try to touch you, tell the ombudsman immediately!” We listened to the woman outline the company’s sexual harassment policies, then went off to happy hour next to a strip club for drinks with our new managers.
Last January, when I started my full-time job, I had to watch another sexual harassment tape. (Companies must hire the same video production company to produce their ’80s-style anti-groping propaganda… Every single video has at least one woman with frizzy hair and Coke-bottle glasses who serves as the object of a mustached man’s affection.) I also had to fill out several online forms, in which I answered survey questions like, “Should Bob put his arm around Sue?” And, “Is Sue allowed to kick Bob in the groin?” (My recollection is fuzzy on the exact wording.)
So, given my extensive immersion in the rules of sexual harassment, I figured that other places would have similar policies. Like CBS. Or, ESPN. Or… the White House. Then again, who can say no to Dave Letterman, Steve Phillips, and Bill Clinton? “Yes, Bob, please put your arm around me. And more.”
Then again, after witnessing the indiscretions of my fellow summer analysts with their bosses/mentors/HR reps in those ten weeks, I suppose the harassment talk didn’t serve as much of a deterrent during my internship. And in my current company, work couples (or “inbreeders”) are common. In fact, if you aren’t dating a colleague, then you’re likely to get laid off; as they say, it’s all about who you know.
Clearly, sexual harassment education isn’t working. We’re still seeing predatory white-haired males hit on chubby young females. We’re still dealing with desperate, ladder-climbing women trying to leapfrog from cubicle to front office.
So, what can we do to reform the system? Should we ban hugs from the office? Give philandering men an attractive, no-strings-attached, government-sponsored public option? Or maybe we just need to make better sexual harassment videos… Well, I hear that a writer, a production assistant, and a former TV host (Mr. Personality!) are all looking for jobs… Once we find an unemployed, mustached predator with white hair, we’re golden.