Know your audience. I can’t tell you how many times that advice has come out of my mouth. Very often, people get too comfortable too fast. Quick rapport development is an appealing quality, to be sure, but not at the sacrifice of the demeanor of the formation.
Lots of locker room talk consideration over the past couple of weeks in light of the Donald Trump hot mic bus recordings being released. He and Billy Bush quickly established a “buddy” relationship. And while, the majority of response has been to condemn the words along with sentiment and systemic treatment of women, it would be unwise to consider it in such a small context. Trump’s words have been repeated in locker rooms since I was old enough to change for gym class right up through board rooms since I was experienced enough to have an executive role.
Period movies and television shows from the 50’s and early 60’s show the dichotomy of family life and business life. The male character is a member of the 1st Baptist or Presbyterian church in town with his wife and kids; they raise their kids to be good Americans, respectful students and to be seen and not heard. At work, that same male may participate in an affair with his secretary, in shady business dealings to undercut another within the company, and in drinks at 3PM to discuss work and women with his boss. Very stereotypical, I know, but much of the content and context in those period dramas.
Our audience is no longer known by look alone. White boys chatting it up about a woman’s anatomy and ability to score isn’t an inclusive strategy for corporate culture. You cannot make a decision just based upon look as our workplace is no longer a homogeneous pool. And further, those who do look the same as you aren’t necessarily coming from the same background as you. It’s a whole new world. And whether it’s Donald Trump on a bus or Bill Clinton on a golf course, any commentary based upon those assumptions is more than unwise; it’s deadly to our culture.
In the small kingdoms we manage in our workplaces, we may not be able to change the world, but we can influence one sphere. Of course, the liability around harassment is evident. It’s not okay to allow language that demeans and cheapens another, whether based on sex, race, religion, medical history, orientation or age, to permeate a workplace. It’s illegal, if not federally, then likely on a state level. You have a responsibility to protect the company you represent. Work for change to minimize such liability.
And yet, as people we may have a deeper responsibility than merely the law. What are we telling the future about us? Our ability to engage at this level is just what a role in management and in human resources should be focused upon. Process improvement, sales objectives and growth planning are necessary and the core duty for some of you. Don’t disregard those needs. Yet, those strategies and duties can be offered in a better context.
The drum beating for employee engagement is loud. To what are we asking them to engage? Our company? OK. So, what is our company like? Do you really want them to be engaged in and to it? Think of it as you might a romantic relationship. As things progress, your love interest gets to see your quirks about washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. This person, also, experiences you more fully, warts and all. That relationship will likely require you to change some things – maybe you need to make the bed, to put your dishes in the dishwasher instead of the sink, to throw out your porn. Whatever you need to do, you may do to make the environment for your relationship bloom and grow more.
Those same considerations at the workplace should occur (If you have porn at the workplace…yikes. Let’s talk offline). What is the willingness of the executive team to sacrifice to allow the relationship of the company and its employees to bloom and grow? If it’s locker room talk that needs to be addressed, then let it go. Don’t make excuses for it. Uncover biases and systemic limiters, and then remove them. Inclusivity is a popular term, and a respectable one, but to what are we including people? Once they see it, they may not want to be included. What a sad possibility. But it’s correctable.
It’s important to remember that this is not about politics. That may have been the most recent context we’re seeing, but it’s not the only environment where such a lack of care about people is evident. Our workplaces may be run by locker room talking, “real housewives” attitude-mongering, bulldozing leaders. Confront it. Categorizing people or a person in an unhealthy or demeaning manner is unacceptable. Act upon it and work for change.
My life is full of strong women, Christians, disabled individuals, gay men, multi-cultural heritages and races. I like them each individually. And though I may look like you, please don’t come to me to share in a negative view or a demeaning approach regarding any of them or what they “represent.” It’s not funny.