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Most American companies have made sexual harassment prevention a cornerstone of workplace training. But some say our society still has a “blame the victim” mentality. Now several high-profile sexual assault cases are raising old debates about who has power and who is a victim. We look at whether “awareness” is helping address a complex and sensitive issue.
- Howard Ross Diversity consultant; Principal, Cook Ross
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Sexual harassment was first recognized as a civil rights issue in the courts back in 1976. The courts ruled that employers were liable for incidents in the workplace and were required to take steps to address the problem. Since then, sexual harassment awareness training has become a cornerstone in workplace policy and anti-rape campaigns with slogans like No Means No have become a staple of campus life.
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSYet, recent cases of assault and rape seem to bring up the same old debates. The Peace Corps is going through some soul searching for a blame-the-victim attitude towards assaults on volunteers. And the recent rape charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, have raised the usual questions about what is fair game to expose in the accusers personal life.
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSMeanwhile, Strauss-Kahn insists he's, in fact, the victim of false accusations that have cost him his career. These are all familiar cycles and some wonder whether 30 years of awareness have changed how we deal with sexual harassment and assault. Joining us to discuss it is Howard Ross. He's a diversity consultant and principal at Cook Ross. Welcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MR. HOWARD ROSSHi, Rebecca, it's nice to see you again.
ROBERTSAnd we are, of course, taking your calls. Do you think awareness and sexual harassment training are enough to change attitudes and behavior? Do you think we've made progress with how we deal with sexual harassment and assault cases? Our number is 800-433-8850, e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get in touch through Facebook or tweet us @kojoshow. Howard, that's sort of amazing that sexual harassment has been in the public consciousness for 30 years now, more than 30 years.
ROBERTSFirst in the court and now really in the workplace pretty ubiquitously. But then, we have cases like what is going on now in the rape accusations at KBR or the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case or you can always find another where credibility of the accuser is brought into play. And so let's start with progress. In what ways have we moved forward?
ROSSWell, I think it's -- I mean, first of all, we have to start with the premises that we're dealing with a subject, Rebecca, that even in the most intimate personal one-to-one relationships, it's not always clear when yes means yes and no means no. If we took it -- you know, most people in their personal relationships find at times when they're sort of equivocal. So we then try to create public policy around something that's already on shaky ground and so it's not surprising that we have this uncertainty.
ROSSI mean, I think, relative to looking where we'd come in the last 30 years, I think most people would say that the kind of thing that happened in the past very regularly, where somebody would say, you want the job what are you willing to do for it, that kind of quid pro quo behavior is much less, quote, "normal" than we would have seen 30 years ago. I mean, most people would say if they see something like that happen, out the door with the person, probably a lawsuit involved. Who knows what?
ROSSYou know, but the point is that that kind of behavior doesn't occur. In the same way as we would see from most other discriminatory behavior, let's say racism, for example, that overt racism has also dealt with that way. But what we're beginning to see with sexual harassment or are seeing now with sexual harassment is the same thing we're seeing in those other cases, which is the more subtle forms of it. The case where there's the he said/she said, what really happened, was it consensual, was it not, is something that's much harder for us to get to the source of and much harder for us to really shift.
ROBERTSWell, it's not a workplace issue, but certainly the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case brings that up in all of its complicated mess, because something happened in that hotel room. He says it was consensual. She says it was an attack. So now, the credibility of each side actually is part of the case, right? You have to choose who to believe. So, what is valid to bring up in terms of how credible each of these people is?
ROSSYeah. Well, I think it's also important to distinguish between, on the one hand, the legal side of this which is, you know, in the court, you know, innocent until proven guilty. And that means the burden of proof is on the accuser in a particular case like that. But then there's the court of public opinion which as we know goes to lots of different areas. And for me, the DSK case points to something which is inherently in all of this, too, which is the recognition -- and people have heard this many times I know, but that sexual harassment is an issue of power, it's not an issue of sexuality.
ROSSNow the two are very strongly linked, obviously. But you've got, in the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, somebody who's by race, by gender -- clearly he's not an ethnic American, but nonetheless financial status, he's the guest in the hotel where she's the person who works there. Who knows what was going on in her mind from that standpoint? From the other standpoint, you hear people who say, well, there are these recordings where she said he's got money. Was she manipulating?
ROSSWe know there are cases where people have done that. So, you know, it depends sort of a lot of how we listen to these things, of course depends were our natural tendency to feel compassion towards one or the other is. Who do we relate most to? Who do we see most in that circumstance? And that's the way we listen to the information that we get. And then we collectively -- we selectively rather get that information and reaffirm that point of view that we've already had.
ROBERTSAnd, you know, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was first arrested and arrested quite quickly and, you know...
ROSSMm-hmm. And dramatically.
ROBERTSAnd dramatically. I felt like there was a lot of conversation among women particularly saying they believed her. You know, this non-white maid, they believed her. Something has changed. They didn't immediately think that the powerful, rich white guy was right. Now, what if she has ruined his life? You know, how does that set back some of these inclinations about your first instinct?
ROSSWell I think that the sad thing is that what we tend to do is we use the exception to define the rule. And the reality of research shows that something like 10 to 1 that the cases tend to, you know, they tend to pan out in the way they appear to be, which is the person who holds the power is, in fact, the person who did the deed. Nonetheless, this will now be, if it turns out that he's exonerated because of what she did or, in fact, that she did this, now this becomes the poster child.
ROSSWell, you remember that case, they're not always guilty. And I think what that feeds into is a tendency on the part of our country and our culture and maybe even more so in Europe -- because you saw the reaction in Europe was, come on, what's the big deal about this. Our tendency to sort of diminish the importance of this and what this means, particularly to women. Now, I know that there certainly are cases where the power differential has shifted and, you know, whether it's Demi Moore or -- I guess there's this new movie with Jennifer Aniston, and I haven't seen it yet, about the bosses where she's a predatory boss.
ROSSAnd, you know, but let's face it, I mean, the power in the case of our societal structures, particularly workplace structures, are usually held by men and that's the way it usually plays out. And so the impact of that on women in terms of women's safety in the workplace, their comfort, all those things, is profound and men sometimes don't understand that.
ROBERTSAnd it also should be said that the housekeeper can have a very checkered past and still be the victim of rape.
ROSSAbsolutely. Absolutely. As a matter of fact, often there have been cases where people were intentionally predatory because they knew that nobody would believe that person. For whatever reason, maybe it's just because they're the housekeeper or maybe it's because of some past. So that's a really challenging thing. On one hand, we might say -- well, we were just talking about this while we were waiting.
ROSSYou know, your child takes the candy from the candy dish three or four times and the 5th time when the candy's missing you immediately look for your child. That's a normal natural thing to do. So if the person does have a checkered past, then you say, well, this could be repeating again. On the other hand, it doesn't necessarily apply to this case. Somebody else might have taken the candy. So it just adds to the confusion in the uncertainty.
ROBERTSThere's another case in the news and this is more specifically about workplace issues. The former employee at KBR, which is a major contractor for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, says she was raped by a colleague in 2005. She went to federal court because her case had to be settled by arbitration, according to KBR policies. But she says that KBR is responsible. They created the environment that led to rape.
ROBERTSAnd after a case that has been going on for the last month, six weeks or so, it actually was ruled that she did not -- she could not bring suit. What ultimate understanding is there about the role of arbitration about company policy, about how much corporate responsibility there is for this sort of environment?
ROSSWell, I mean, there's a legal issue. And I'm not a lawyer. I want to be really clear. But there's a legal issue, which is that people do sometimes sign away their rights without realizing it. Because when you take a job, and I think she was 20 years old when she took that job, who's going to think, well, now I have to protect myself from being raped in my work environment? You know, people don't think about that when we sign this whole list of papers, most of which we don't even read.
ROSSAnd I think that's something people need to be careful about, particularly in today's world. And it may be that it's appropriate to make it clear to people that what you actually are signing away when you're doing that. We may need legislation that makes it clear to people that what's in the fine print. Because we can say, well, everybody's responsible for themselves. But this is a great example. You have a 20-year-old, how the heck is she supposed to be able to do this? She couldn't go out and get a lawyer before she gets this -- takes this job for $12 an hour or something.
ROSSIt's not, you know, really appropriate to expect that. But on a broader level, what you're asking is -- really speaks to this whole issue of hostile environment. What are the things that we create in our organizational structures that contribute to the kind of environment in which something like this can even be conceived of as ending up anywhere other than the perpetrator would be either in jail or in a court room or fired or something else? And that does beg the question, you know, you could have somebody who's just pathological in their behavior or there could be messages in the environment that say, you know, nobody's going to pay attention to this.
ROBERTSAnd, you know, I think we are seeing this in the military, which is obviously extremely male dominated. And as more women enter the military, there's more rape in the military. Representative Jane Harmond says a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.
ROSSThat's pretty terrifying, isn't it?
ROBERTSIt's a very shocking statistic.
ROSSI mean, it's shocking. And, you know, we've known (unintelligible) brought this to people's awareness. I mean, any time you've got an all-male historic environment, you're going to have a particular attitude toward sexuality and women that gets fed by what's there. And even people who are not comfortable with that are not likely to speak out against it in an all-male or predominantly male environment. Then you stick women in this environment and, you know, you have people who, you know -- I mean, I'm not saying any of this justifies the behavior, but you've got all kind of (unintelligible) and people who are under stress, people who've been separated from their love ones for a long time, people who don't have a lot of contact with women.
ROSSYou know, you've got all of this, plus the power dynamics of people who are in very different, very specific different roles, of statuses of their, you know, their rank and all that. And all of this just creates a hot bed for this kind of thing to happen.
ROBERTSAnd, you know, the accuser in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been characterized as a schemer. The woman who came forward in the KBR case -- and I have no idea whether or not her accusations are accurate, the court has not found it so., but she has been characterized as hysterical.
ROSSYes, classic example.
ROBERTSRight. It's this very gender-loaded language about, you know, she doesn't know her own head and she goes off the handle too easily sort of thing. And so, you know, even if you're not fired, even if, you know, coming forward isn't going to make you lose your job, does coming forward risk labeling you someone that can't be trusted?
ROSSWell, I think this is real because the histrionic thing also came up in the Yale case when the paper was accused of being histrionic because they -- or they accused the women's center of being histrionic. For people who don't know, there was a case where Yale students were marching around the male campus, running around saying, No means yes and yes means anal. I mean that's, you know, how blatantly offensive can that be.
ROSSAnd when the women's center protested it, the Yale newspaper actually criticized them for being so histrionic in their kind of boys will be boys criticism. Well, I mean, I think that the nature of this, is it really speaks to the heart of what we're talking about. We don't really see how much there's a gender bias in all of this. It appears like it's he said/she said. But it's really the weight of it is so much heavier on the victim in this particular case, these kinds of cases, that any reaction to that as somebody being, you know, too sensitive.
ROSSSo getting back to the comments, particularly in predominantly male environments, if you're a woman trying to make it in the military or in the case of the military operation or someplace like that, you're in an environment in which you need to prove yourself as a woman anyway. You need to prove that you're tough. You need to prove to yourself you're not going to be overly sensitive. You need to prove that you're not going to be overly emotional.
ROSSNow, I'm not saying it should be that way. I'm just saying that's the reality of how it is. And so the very thing that you're sort of taught by your experience will help you be successful here, which is to be as tough as the guys, actually were counter to your being able to deal with these kinds of incidents when they occur because the emotional reaction that you have or the ability to say no or the ability to draw the line makes you potentially being seen as one of those overly sensitive women, and therefore gets branded in that direction. So you're kind of damned if you do and damned if you don't.
ROBERTSWell, let's turn this out to the audience. Do you think women who have been sexuality assaulted still have reason to fear coming forward because of how they'll be treated? Or do you think we've made progress in how we deal with sexual assault and harassment cases? The number, 800-433-8850. Or send us e-mail, email@example.com. You can also get in touch with us through Facebook or tweet us @kojoshow.
ROBERTSThe military -- the more we learn about the military environment, the more sort of horrifying it is, you know, in terms of stories of female soldiers not drinking water later at night because they're worried that if they have to use the bathroom, they're putting themselves vulnerable to their fellow soldiers.
ROSSRight, not to the enemy.
ROBERTSSo talk about a hostile workplace environment, in addition to all of the worries about being under enemy fire and all the things that come up there. The idea that you're threatened by your own colleagues, in an atmosphere where the only way an army works is by mutual trust and mutual dependence on each other. Are there any prospects for that culture changing? Can a tipping point of enough women being involved make a difference?
ROSSWell, I mean, I think it will change over time as you have more women ascending to the degree that that continues. Now who knows how that will happen? There have been a lot of circumstances where historically where you have people who started to move into certain areas. Engineering's like this and, all of a sudden, there seems to be a slipping back. But having more women around will begin to challenge these more.
ROSSBut I think we need to realize, particularly in the military, you're talking about the most difficult environment people can be in. And we just had the story last week about these -- the shocking number of suicides that are occurring every year in the military. And it was a big deal that President Obama was now going to send conciliatory letters to people who have lost their families that way because in the past, we wouldn't do that if they died by suicide, which is, you know, it's as absurd as anything you can think of.
ROSSI mean, the fact that you put people in this incredibly high-stress environments where they're scared for their life or they're dealing with things they've never dealt with before -- and it affects people in lots of different ways. It affects people in terms of their own self-damage that they do to themselves, whether it's through suicide or substance abuse or anything like that. And it also affects them in how they treat other people because that stress has to go somewhere.
ROSSAnd so the way -- I have tremendous respect for a lot of the things the military has done around diversity issues in general. And there are a lot of tremendous people in the military who are doing that work. But the degree that it's really going to make a difference -- and ultimately it's going to be not just dealing with the diversity aspect of it, but also with the stress aspect of it.
ROBERTSLet's take a call. This is Pam in Alexandria. Pam, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
PAMHello. I just wanted to make the comment that I don't believe that women have made nearly as much progress as we should have made, given the fact that women are now in the workforce. I do think that issues related to rape should be addressed a lot more aggressively. I also believe that part of the problem is an all-boys network that does not allow a voice to be given to people who are not a part of the upper echelon. And I'll take my comments off the air.
ROBERTSThanks, Pam. Howard?
ROSSYeah, I think, first of all, Pam, I think you're right. I think when you look at the numbers of women who are in the workforce now, you would think more has been done. But I think if we remember that these issues of harassment are issues of power, then we can really see the heart of it. You know, the interesting thing is that some of the most recent research shows that it is distinctly a dynamic of power and -- power as it relates to sexuality and not a dynamic of gender.
ROSSAnd that is when they do research --for example, there's a guy named John Mayner (sp?) , who was at the University of Florida who did the study where he had coed men and women in these interactions with each other. And when he gave one of them power, I believe it was power over financial decisions, that they almost immediately became more flirtatious with the other. The same thing happened with women as it did for men. There's some link between power and the way we experience power and how we experience sexuality.
ROSSNow, what some people suspect is that there's -- when we're feeling power, we have a tendency to fear the future less. Therefore, the results of our behavior, the negative results of our behavior, sort of disappear in our mind and the more positive possibilities takeover. So the notion of becoming, you know, taking a risk sexually is -- frankly, that's threatening. The other part of it is when we have power, we feel better about ourselves. And so, as he said in his study, hello turns to hello.
ROSSYou know, there's a way that we listen differently to people. But the interesting thing is that it does not seem -- there have been a number of tests now that show that it does not seem necessarily related to gender. Now, we see it, of course, as gender because gender is a power-related issue in our society. It is in the workforce, it is in the military and it is in society in general. But it will be interesting to see how that shapes up. But I think Pam's right. We should have been a lot farther and we need to keep working at it.
ROBERTSThat's Howard Ross, diversity consultant and principal at Cook Ross. We are talking about attitudes about sexual harassment and assault in light of the various news stories floating around now. We're going to take a quick break. But when we come back, we'll take more of your calls at 800-433-8850 and e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Rebecca Roberts, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Stay tuned.
ROBERTSWelcome back, I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm talking with Howard Ross. He's a diversity consultant and a principle at Cook Ross. And we're talking about sexual harassment and assault and American attitudes about those things in light of the various news stories that have been dominating the news outlets over the last couple of months. Let's take some calls. This is Steven in Washington, D.C. Steven, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
STEVENHi, thank you for taking my call. I heard you -- part of the discussion earlier was about women being raped in the military. I have a friend who is male and was raped repeatedly while -- by other men, while in Iraq. And he tried to do something about it and it was just constantly denied like it never happened. And I was wondering if, you know, there is any input or anyone heard anything about that...
ROSS...yeah, certainly. Thanks for calling in Steven. Because it is important to recognize that, you know, rape happens -- rape is forcible use of power for sexual purposes. It doesn't distinguish whether, you know, who's doing the rape. Whether it's a man or woman or whether it's being done to men or women. So rape is rape. Now, one of the challenges, of course, in the military around this is up until just a couple of months ago, we had this ridiculous don't ask, don't tell policy, which said that, how could that possibly happen? Because, of course, homosexuality doesn't exist here. You know...
STEVENHe was actually -- he's actually heterosexual.
ROSSNo, but there's obviously homosexuality in the act. There's also violence and power in the act. My point is that, how can you, on one hand, have a system that's going to be willing to openly engage in exploring something like that and investigating it and at the same time, having that same system be a system that pretends it doesn't exist? And so we -- it sort of points to how absurd that whole policy was.
ROSSAnd it's a terrifying thing to think of what happens to people in those kinds of circumstances where they really are in a captive situation. You're away from -- you know, you're in Iraq. You're in a war zone. There's no place to turn to and when the power, in this case the military, you turn to for help about something like this, turns a blind eye to it, then you could only imagine the terror that your friend was feeling in that circumstance.
ROBERTSSteven, thank you for calling in. Let's take a call from Michael in Washington. Michael, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MICHAELHi, thank you, this is a fascinating conversation. I'm calling because I am a nurse, a male in a predominately female dominated field. And I had an experience two years ago where I was sexually harassed by my supervisor, a male supervisor, and it lasted for a month. And the power struggle -- my point is I have a new found respect for people who have to deal with this because I went through the whole emotion -- all of the emotions of, this is my fault.
MICHAELHow could I have allowed this to happen? I made him act like this toward me. Then the anger of, oh, this isn't my fault, this is his fault. He needed to stop. And, you know, I reported what I could report without jeopardizing my job because I was afraid of my career, that they wouldn't believe me. The person has since left, thankfully, but the fear that I went through every single day of thinking that he was in power when, in fact, after a lot of therapy, it occurred to me that because I basically held his job in my hands, that I was in power.
MICHAELAnd related to what the other person was saying a few moments ago. It's the whole -- it's this whole power struggle that, even though I was the survivor and the victim in this experience, there was another feeling of power. And it was just an incredibly horrific experience. And I'll take comments off the air.
ROBERTSNo, Mike -- Michael, thank you for calling in and sharing it.
ROSSYeah, I mean, look, Michael's pointing right to it. I mean, this is an issue of dominance and power. And dominance and power shows up in lots of different ways. And we can be in a societally dominant group as Michael is as a man, but in a non-dominant group within our workplace. And in that case, the power dynamic can shift. Who can I talk to? And some of the things we've been talking about also come into play.
ROSSOne of the challenges that men feel, a lot of men who are put into Michael's circumstance, feel -- and I don't know that this is true, by the way, I'm going to be very clear. I'm not saying this is true about Michael, but is, do I talk to people about this because, you know, is there a part of me that's drawing this? Does that mean that I'm gay? And so all the homophobia that's in society triggers do I really tell people this because are people going to start thinking that I'm gay if I tell people this?
ROSSAnd so we see how these things get stacked on each other. There's the personal interaction of power, you and I and what's our power in this circumstance, but there's also the societal inner group power dynamic, which is, I'm also a man or a woman in a society that has a particular weight on all those kinds of things. And it's challenging.
ROBERTSLet's hear from Jess in Washington. Jess, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Hey, Jess, you're on the air.
ROBERTSHi, you're on the air, Jess.
JESSHi, this is -- yes. This is what I wanted to say about this whole program. I'm really glad that you have it on. I really wish that you address this issue every single week because unfortunately, every time there's a high profile rape case, we talk about this on the media and then it fades away. And so when I was brutally raped by a med student, who later became a doctor -- he practices here at the Washington hospital center, the whole power dynamic, as you discussed, isn't just the males and the way they treat you.
JESSActually, the males treated me better, whether it be police, the U.S. Attorney's office in general. The females and the way they treat you -- not all females think, oh, this is a shared possibility, this might happen to me. Sometimes you're outcast for going to those very people you think might understand because they're a woman. And also, two, I think that because there's so much immaturity and emotion around rape, the lack of knowledge and awareness that it's a violent crime, people take sides instead of looking at the evidence.
JESSYou know, look at the evidence. Was there a crime committed? And that's what really gets me angry about the media. I think the media contributed to this whole IMF foolishness. I mean, Mr. IMF President there.
JESSYes. Well, I don't even feel like I should call him by name because he made his own bed. He made his own bed. He conducts himself like that, then he does that to another woman and then he's surprised that somewhere along the line that someone's going to accuse him of rape. Well, maybe he did rape, maybe he didn't. But he set himself up to that situation. So if a woman has a past like that and does these kinds of things, it immediately falls on her. If you're a good person, as a woman, it still falls on you to show your character.
JESSSo I get really angry because we talk about power dynamics since the '60s in our society. But we don't get past it. I mean, what can we do about it? Well, in closing, we can train the health professionals and the legal folk not to take sides, but to gather the evidence and the media to be responsible in reporting the cases in such a way that people can sit back and really hear the facts. Those are my comments.
ROBERTSJess, thank you for your call.
JESSThank you very...
ROSSYeah, there are a number of things, Jess, in what you're saying. I mean, one is, you point that -- when you talk about the reaction of women to your circumstance, I mean, to think that we need to realize that one of the problems with societal based patterns of dominance is that we internalize and -- regardless of what group we're in, so this is phenomenon that's sometimes referred to as internalized depression, where people in a non dominant group take on the societies attitudes about that group.
ROSSAnd we've seen that with race, we've seen it gender, we see it with religion. And where it's true for women, you know, I see it all the time. We do work in corporations around gender dynamics. And you will often see, that a lot of the work that's being done around this is training women how to be, sort of, how to fit in better with men.
ROSSSo don't wear that skirt, don't wear this kind of a top, don’t dress in that particular way because that's going to cause you trouble. Now, on one hand, you can say, well that's helping people perhaps understand the mine field of an environment they're going into. But on another hand, there's something inherently wrong about that. And what we're saying is not that -- the guy who wears tight pants because he goes to the gym everyday and he doesn't mind having his body shown off a little bit.
ROSSYou know, it's the same behavior. But very few people are going to go over and say, hey, your pants are too tight, unless it's really, really extreme. And yet, it's nothing for people to say, not the dangling earrings, not that low cut thing, not -- you know, to women, it's part of natural coaching for women. And it all is part of this overall society -- the societal dynamic which says that if women are titillating, it's their problem, not the guy's problem who's dealing with them.
ROSSAnd that leads to this sort of behavior. Well, you brought it on yourself. We see that in rape cases. We see it in the sexual harassment cases all the time. And that's an unfortunate aspect of this.
ROBERTSLet's take a call from Rick in McLean. Rick, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
ROBERTSHi. You're on the air, go ahead.
RICKWell, basically, my thought is that people also relax -- I'm going to echo a little bit the previous woman who called, because many times facts come out after the fact or after all the initial hysteria and in some cases, they're supportive of the woman's accusations and in other cases they just totally discredit her. And I think the people need to realize that there are bad men who exploit women and there are bad women who exploit men. And it takes some digging to find out. That's the first thought that I had.
ROBERTSRick, thank you for your call. Yeah, and, you know, certainly we saw this in, for instance, the Duke LaCrosse case, where that accuser was totally discredited and could've done some serious damage to those guys' lives. And, you know, and then you think, well, which is more common or which is more likely or how do you make sure women who really do have something to say, feel confident coming forward without placing, you know, a undo power in the hands of someone who could actually really falsely accuse someone and really do some damage?
ROSSWell -- and one of the challenges, too, that we have at the legal system, you look at the Duke LaCrosse case, there's some of these other cases and not guilty goes not necessarily mean innocent either. And, I mean, I have no idea what happened down there at Duke. I have no idea what happened in most of these cases. But the point is that I think that, in our minds, we know the fact that people haven't -- can't prove a case in court and in -- of course, in the fact that -- in the case of the Duke case, there was all the inappropriate behavior on the part of the prosecutor as well.
ROSSIt doesn't mean that something wasn't happening in that house with this group of young men and this woman being there. And so -- and I think that that's what people are often left with in this gray area. Now, one of the things that Jess talked about before, about evidence, we have to look at the evidence. But the problem is, in most of these cases, the evidence is people's word. I mean, there are some evidence that sexual activity occurs, but when...
ROBERTSCould've been consensual.
ROSS...as in the case of -- that's exactly right. In the case of DSK, when he says yeah, we had sex, now what, aside from that, unless somebody happens to have heard it or happened to be in the other room or something like that, it really is a matter of two people's words against each other. And that's challenging.
ROBERTSLet's hear from Edith in Bowie. Edith, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
EDITHYes, I'm curious. How would you advise the new IMF director in terms of instilling renewed confidence and appreciation by an internationally based workforce that comes with varying sort of levels of appreciation and understanding of even the sexual harassment and, you know, men and women sort of relationships? How would you advise her to instill in that workforce, now, a renewed sense of confidence that there would either be zero tolerance of that kind of activity and that all folks would be appreciated equitably?
ROSSWell, I think that -- Edith, with the -- this is exactly the kind of thing that more and more organizations are doing. And it involves a number of things. First of all, it involves creating a very clear set of standards and directions. This is what's acceptable. This is what's not acceptable. And ironically, in less formal environments, environments where people are really buddy-buddy with each other, this is a lot harder to do than in very formal environments where there's a real clear hierarchy.
ROSSBecause in those kinds of environments, people aren't telling jokes to each other all the time, that sort of a thing so taking the time to do that is the first thing. Secondly, to create an opportunity for people to really talk about these issues. And unfortunately, sometimes, we in the diversity spaces are at -- sometimes in conflict with people in the legal departments of organizations because legal departments want stuff only to be talked about when it has to be talked about.
ROSSOr even the trainings are very directive trainings. You know, do this, don't do that. The real source of this stuff comes when people are engaging in dialogue about it and saying, you know, how does this feel and what are some of the subtleties that create these dynamics and, gee, do I have an opportunity to really reflect on how my mindset might be affected by these, even if I don't realize it, and conversations like that which could have huge meaning in terms of people understanding the unconscious and how it plays out in their decision making.
ROSSSo it takes a real commitment on people's part to create an environment in which we can have those kinds of conversations. But people are doing it in organizations today.
ROBERTSAnd, you know, Edith was talking specifically about the IMF, which brings up the question of different cultures and different places. You know, there's a conventional wisdom around the rest of the world that we Americans are such puritans about all of this. And so -- but even within American workplaces, you know, company to company, there's a different feeling of what's comradery and what's offensive.
ROSSYeah, I mean, culture is huge. I remember, years ago, I did a piece of work for Radio Free Europe and they had Americans who were over there in Eastern Europe and they were running into Eastern European attitudes about sexuality, which were quite different than ours. We have a responsibility as an organization to protect our people wherever they are and we also have a responsibility to know that culture, as you're saying, shows up very differently.
ROSSAnd so the things that we take seriously and, you know, are taken seriously by the country that people are living in needs to be clearly -- need to be clearly articulated to the people who are working there. So if we've got an organization like the IMF, which my guess is, probably has people from a 100 countries, that means having even a more pronounced conversation about how does this show up, how might this be different culturally? And whether you like it or not is not the issue.
ROSSYou can disagree with it, you can think we're prudish or whatever else, but these are the standards you're going to be held accountable for.
ROBERTSWe have an e-mail from Kathy who says "The fact that you're talking about female military personnel being more likely to be raped than killed in action shows that we haven't come all that far. Women are still at risk no matter where they are, period. I'm 59 and it seems not much has changed." Would you agree with Kathy?
ROSSWell, I mean, I think -- look, I think, we have a long way to go. I mean, it's hard to say when you're saying, has much changed? I mean, I think that there has been some changes. But I can certainly understand the frustration of somebody Kathy's -- roughly my age and I can understand that we would think that in all this time, we'd have gone a lot farther than we are. We need to open up this conversation. You know, just one other example, subtly, of this.
ROSSWe do an experiment, sometimes with our training where we give people resumes to read. And it's all about what are the unconscious drivers in evaluating. And the resumes are exactly the same. The stories are the same. It's a narrative with everything exactly these same except the names, the pictures and pronouns. So people rate these different resumes quite differently.
ROSSOne of the aspects, because we wanted it to be a little bit edgy, was that this person in the resume -- in the story, is reported to have come to four different events, company social events, with four different partners. And all the time that we've done this, the number of times that people have made that an issue in their evaluation of the resume with women rather than men, is, like, seven to one. In other words, when men come with different partners, no big deal.
ROSSWhen women come with different partners, well, I'm not sure. I think just speaks to the fact that this mindset is still out there. We need to pay attention to these unconscious drivers if we're going to really understand how these dynamics play out.
ROBERTSAnd we have to leave it there. Howard Ross, a diversity consultant and principle at Cook Ross. Howard, always a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us.
ROSSYou, too, Rebecca. Good to see you.
ROBERTSAnd I'm Rebecca Roberts. I have been sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, but Kojo is back tomorrow and he will join you here on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thank you so much for listening.
ROBERTSComing up tomorrow on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," Fighting a Tech Addiction, how a digital diet can keep your gadgets from taking over your life. It's Tech Tuesday plus the untold story of Jazz legend Louis Armstrong, actor, composer, author and Civil Rights activist. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," noon 'til 2:00 tomorrow on WAMU 88.5.
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