- Debbie Dougherty
Adored, Dreaded, Loved, and Loathed: Do you have a Predator at the office Holiday Party?
Updated: Jan 27
One of the most adored, dreaded, loved, and loathed events is just around the corner. Yes, I am talking about the annual workplace holiday party season. We have lots of holiday work parties packed into the next month, all of which may bring some cheer and fear for the attendees. For those lucky people in healthy organizational cultures, the holiday party may be an event looked forward to with great anticipation. Yay for you! For those people in organizational cultures woven with predatory sexual behavior, these events can bring well earned fear and anxiety.
How do you know if your organizational culture is healthy or broken?
Wow. That is a big question. I will take that question in small chunks on my blog over the next year (or you could read my book). For now, lets narrow in on a smaller question. What should I watch for at the Holiday party? I have broken the answer into four steps.
Step One: See What You Cannot See
First, you have to be able to see what you cannot see. By this I mean that sexual predators are hidden in the ongoing
cultural conversation that comprises your organization, making them more or less invisible in the workplace. You know those pictures where you either see faces, or you see vases? This is called a Rubin vase. Depending on the image you see first, it becomes challenging to see the other image that forms the background of the picture. We tend to focus on the figure, and thereby lose the background. Predatory sexual behavior almost always happens in the background, making it hard to recognize. Try to look at the whole picture at this year’s party.
Step Two: Recognize that Sexual Harassment May Live in Your Organization
Leaders often make the mistake of assuming that because they cannot “see” sexual harassment that it therefore must not exist (even when they themselves are the predators!). So, step number two is to being open to the possibility that sexual harassment may live in the silent and hidden spaces of your culture. If you read my earlier blog, then you will have some understanding of how silence works through nondisclosure agreements and mystification. Even the people with the very best of intent, people who have a clear vision of sexual harassment in other organizations, can miss it in their own workplace.
Step Three: When in Doubt, Stay Present
I had just begun working as a professor when I was harassed at a Department function. It was the end of the party, and everyone was leaving. There was me, there was the perpetrator, and there was the Department Chair. She was hanging out in the background, pushing in chairs, picking up debris. You see, she could not hear my conversation with the perpetrator. She was not certain if I was uncomfortable. So, she stayed. Just in case. I extracted myself from the situation, and the Department Chair and I left the venue together. I have always been grateful to her for her presence. What started as an irritating encounter could have turned ugly, but she stayed in the room. That made all the difference.
Step Four: Don’t Forget to Enjoy Yourself!
For most of us, it has been a while since we have been in a relaxed space with our coworkers. The parties, as described in the #WashingtonPost, sound magnificent! Wear your ugly sweater, sing badly and loudly, and laugh often. It is a party after all!
Note: Freya (the 11 year old artistic phenom) spent the better part of a day on the blog picture. Feel free to send along a compliment!
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