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Hello all. Please forgive me the fact that with my first post I’m asking for help. I’ve been a long time listener to the casts and tried to implement the principle of manager tools with some success. Thanks a lot for your help!

I found out last night about a nuclear briefcase situation that I’d really appreciate sounding the posters out on.

Background:
I’m a western male area manager in an Asian country and responsible for 8 sales outlets. I have 9 directs, 6 of whom are female, and they in turn are responsible for around 40 people, roughly 30 of whom are female. Basically I’m saying it’s a largely female company. It’s a growing company that has about 500 employees.

Situation:
My new male, married western boss (as of July), who is at officer level, visited my area recently and went out for a few drinks with a few of my Asian directs. I was not there but he invited one of them back to his hotel room for some fun via text message. I’ve seen the messages and they are unequivocally sexual harassment. My direct is less than happy about this. She dealt with the situation as best she could but I’m really not sure that all my staff would have that ability.

Other points:
1) My company has a slightly chequered past in dealing with sexual harassment.
2) I’ve head rumours about my boss’s previous behaviour that are not very complimentary. Just rumours of course.

Obviously I can talk to him about this but my goal is that it never happens again. My direct is just wishing the whole situation would disappear but I have not just a responsibility to her but the rest of the people in my area (and company). I’m lucky enough to have a great working relationship with the person who felt harassed but there are plenty of people in my area who might not feel so comfortable reporting this kind of thing. This is Asia and some stereotypes seem to hold water.

Advice?

I see my options as:

1) Report to HR (not a fan of this because it’s still a small company and gossip and politics still play a big part).
2) Have a chat with him myself (not a fan of this as it doesn’t seem to be doing enough on my part to make sure others are not put in the same situation).
3) Report to his superior, the COO (not a huge fan of this as I’d expect him to want it swept under the carpet).
4) Put my hands over my eyes (just joking).

I’ve re-listened to the casts on sexual harassment and I think this is slightly different as it involves my superior. Thanks in advance for any help offered. By the way, I’ve just reread my options and if you are wondering why I’m still working here, so am I. I always tell myself that I'd like to be part of the change and I suppose this is a chance.

Thanks again and apologies for the long post!!

US41's picture

I believe you are correct: Nuclear briefcase situation.

I'm not sure I can advise you. But I can help you think through it, perhaps?

* You are a Westerner with Western internal morality which emanates from a Greco-Roman based culture mixed with Judeo-Christian guilt-based sense of right vs. wrong.

* Your employee is Asian, and Asians are different. Rather than internal guilt-based morality, most Asians have been observed to operate with externally based shame/honor based morality.

Take this into account when you are making your choice about what to do. You may feel a guilt-driven need to "do the right thing" and act as a knight in shining armor for your female employee - charging into the dragon's cave to give her protection from the threat from above. It's all very noble.

She may feel a strong need to have the event compacted into as small of an object as possible and pushed into the past and forgotten. Your act of protection may possibly make things worse for her. You may provide cover from the so-called "next time", but in reality you will publicly shame your employee which for her might be worse than actually being harassed privately.

Maybe not. I'm not a PhD on Asian culture and I don't know either of you. However, I did live in Asia and work in an Asian company for two years, so I am familiar with some of the dynamic. I encountered similar in my past, and my Asian friends finally intervened and told me to stop agrandizing myself as a hero at the expense of the victim's privacy. They viewed the situation far differently than we would. I thought I was being self-sacrificing, but they thought I was being selfish and battling with my own ego.

Those are just some possible concepts to think about.

Next, the possible outcomes?

A) You confront your boss, and he eliminates you because you "know too much" and he'd like a fresh start without you around to remind him of his failure

B) You confront your boss, and he blows it off and laughs in your face.

C) You confront your boss, and he is embarassed and changes his behavior, but your career is over though you keep your job.

D) You confront your boss, and he is embarassed, changes his behavior, and you are later promoted despite this.

Which is most likely? I have to guess (A) without knowing any of you personally. I've seen (A) happen before. I've never seen any of the other possibilities play out. Machiavelli's work suggests that (A) is the most likely outcome.

Other options?

What if you advise your employee to go to HR immediately, put the ball in her court, and allow her to play it as she sees fit while you stay out of it? Would that work? Could you live with her decision to let it drop and not pursue him? Or will your Western desire to see justice done cause you to blow a fuse and end up getting involved in it anyway?

Just some thoughts. Only you can decide what to do with your nuclear briefcase. Maybe some others with experience in Asia will contradict or add more to these thoughts. I'm certainly not the last word on the topic.

bug_girl's picture

I can only address this from a US standpoint, since that is the legal framework I know.

If you know of a harassment situation, and you do nothing to address it, [b]YOU[/b] are responsible for it if it continues.

If the guy is Western, he Knows what he did is inappropriate. I would encourage your employee to take this up with HR, and make it clear that you support her in this.

Also, document document document everything.
Save those text messages!

stephenbooth_uk's picture

I think it's pretty clear that options 2 and 4 are non-viable. Talking to your boss is unlikely to resolve the problem and would most likely just get you a bad reputation and even sacked.

First off I think you need to document everything. Who texted what to whom and when, what responses have been sent, any follow up &c. Discreetly find out what the legal situation is. Under UK law you could be legally culpable for failure to act, find out what the situation where you are is (yes, it's a cover your behind (CYB) situation).

Then talk to the employee who was the target. Suggest that she take it to HR and say you'll support her if she does. Make it clear that you cannot just 'have a quiet word' with the manager. If she wants to keep it quiet document this in some way (CYB). if she's OK with going ahead set up a meeting between yourself, your direct, HR and your boss's boss, send HR a copy of the documentation you produced.

Remember you are there to support your direct, not to complain on her behalf, and to represent the best interests of the company. In this case your boss may have exposed the company to a potential legal action. If the site is unionised and she is a member suggest that she talk to her local union rep (CYB).

Stephen

HMac's picture

[quote="US41"]What if you advise your employee to go to HR immediately, put the ball in her court, and allow her to play it as she sees fit while you stay out of it? Would that work? Could you live with her decision to let it drop and not pursue him?[/quote]

RogerMellie:
Nice that you apologized for making your first post a request for help, but unecessary: look at all the great, empathetic advice you're getting.

-Hugh

davidleeheyman's picture

In my previous position here in Israel I terminated three employees for three different cases of sexual harassment. In one of the cases I was initially able to diffuse the situation until the male perpetrator made some additional comments which couldn't be ignored. In another of the cases the male 'victim' hadn't complained but I couldn't get the perpetrator to even read the sexual harassment policy.

The societal norms and laws in Israel necessitated this action.

I travel extensively in Asia these days and I work hard not to look at the local situations with my American-Israeli eyes. I try to accept that different countries and regions have different ways of going about things. I have to agree with US41 that by bringing additional attention to this situation you may cause this woman to lose more 'face' than if you let her put it behind her and go on.

I think it would be best to step away from your Western ideas about how things should be done. As others suggested, I would make her aware of her option to take it up with HR. Make sure she knows that you'll support her if she decides to do so. But at the end you need to accept whatever route she takes and move on.

RogerMellie's picture

All,

Thanks a lot for your help on this matter; it really is much appreciated. Just to give you an update:

1) My direct told my boss via email that she was upset by the incident and also told him that she'd told me about it.
2) He's apologised and is pleading with her to leave it at that.
3) All has been documented and I have copies of the emails that have been going between them.
4) I've come to agree with something that a few of you mentioned. I think I might have to knock on the head any idea I had of being the white knight.
5) The company doesn't have a sexual harassment policy.
6) My direct says she wants it all forgotten about as soon as possible and does not want it reported to HR. I have some influence here and I can encourage/persuade her to do something else if necessary.
7) There is no union presence here. Union is a dirty word I'm afraid.
8 ) After asking hypothetical questions to HR, I'm under no legal obligation to report anything.

Now I'm off my high horse, I'm happy to go along with her wishes and leave it be.

Sound fair?

If so, my concerns would be:

1) The possibility of future repetition by my boss.
2) I'm a bit exposed here.

Seems to be the best option of a bad bunch.

Thoughts?

And thanks again for the previous suggestions/opinions/comments. They've helped a great deal in calming me down and giving me a bit of perspective. I was livid when I wrote the first post. Also, I just noticed that this was probably in the wrong board. Apologies :oops:

Thanks again folks.

US41's picture

[quote="RogerMellie"]
1) The possibility of future repetition by my boss.
2) I'm a bit exposed here.[/quote]

Think of it as in the feedback podcast - she has fired a shot across his bow. He's terrified. He will likely not repeat the behavior now that he has been called out. I think many older men would privately admit that the last time they tried to hug a female coworker was the first time a female coworker complained about it to them. Usually having the spotlight put on the behavior puts a swift cap on it.

I think you are doing the right things in protecting yourself as her manager. You are keeping copies of everything, there is no policy, and likely even if she complained the company would perhaps lash out at her rather than the perpetrator. Best to leave it where it is and keep records in case you are questioned in the future. Just keep in those records a bulleted list of why you did what you did.

* She requested no intervention
* Your boss was the perp
* You asked her to go to HR - she declined
* You stored the emails for long-term review by the company
* You approached HR and were not liable to stop it

I think that wraps it up. Nothing will wrap up her shame, your boss's fear, or your discomfort other than the passage of time.

jhack's picture

Roger, glad to hear that folks are doing mostly the right things. Remember that your task now is to move on and behave as if it never happened (unless the issue is specfically raised by an involved party).

Great thread, everyone.

Stephen's advice is both terse and spot on.

US41's analysis is strong.

Bug is right, and there's more: in the US, if you as a manager know of harassment and do nothing, you are [i]personally[/i] liable, and your assets are at risk. You must do something.

John

dave445's picture

Damn it's good to know there's such good support out there when community members need it.

You all make me proud to be a MT member.

US41's picture

I think it needs saying by someone: I don't care what the law and the company policy are regarding my reporting of harassment. I'm going to report it if I think it needs reporting to protect my employees and serve their best interests. I'm not going to report it if I think doing so is going to cause the company to do something stupid and make it worse for everyone when it is already handled.

I'll take the risk if the situation warrants it.

I have been sexually harassed at the office multiple times.

Had I gone to HR, then the company's policy would have been fulfilled. However, my political situation would have been destroyed had I made official reports instead of just laughing it off. I was not injured. I was not psychologically damaged.

I imagine women in the military have to put up with certain mild levels of harassment in order to keep a reputation as being "one of the boys" similarly. Their long-term political interests outweigh reporting the Sargent for slapping them on the rear as they head into the obstacle course for one more attempt.

Some harassment is dangerous and needs reporting. Some is annoying and inappropriate, but reporting it is just as asinine as the act itself.

Others might not recommend this approach, because of the worry that they will not report something when it needs reporting.

Some might say modern society has lost its nerve thanks to endless lawsuits holding everyone accountable for everything. We put safety stickers on windows that warn you might fall out when the window is open. I would never deny someone going to HR, but I just think people should toughen up a little in the face of very mild abuse and consider the fallout from reporting it.

The Sexual Harassment craze started with a famous testimony against the confirmation of a nominee to the Supreme Court. The nominee was confirmed despite her report.

Would I hire the woman that testified? I would not. I have doubts as to her motives and ability to be around others at casual times without getting upset at well-intentioned humor. I don't want to work with uptight people who report everything that they see and hear.

Every time an incident of harassment at work has become public, those involved, both victim and accused, followed the same path. The accused was assigned to work some non-profit organization's donation drive in the company for a year. The victim left the company completely humiliated and ruined.

Is that fair? Irrelevant. It's just political reality. It's just a fact that this is how it usually ends up.

An auto-shop I go to has a woman working in it. The walls are covered in posters of women in bikinis posing on cars in the shop. I blushed when I saw the environment this woman worked in. That's because I come from a very different work environment. I asked her about it, and she said, "I don't care. Why should you? You think if we pull the posters down that bikini girls will cease to exist and these guys will stop looking at them?"

Different states, different nations, different companies, different environments - behaviors and cultural norms are different and the people who work and live there must adapt to some degree.

I guess what I am saying is remember there are politics and shades of gray to everything. Think about how it will end before you begin. Remember that mild abuse is again being poked with an umbrella, and getting upset is something you can choose not to do.

If Rule #1 is "fit in", then the corollary has to be "Reporting things to HR may indicate you do not fit in."

jhack's picture

Folks,

I'm not a lawyer. Check your rules. You don't [i]have[/i] to go to HR. You [i]do[/i] need to do something: document it (in your files), meet with someone, provide information on your company rules. Inaction and indifference are not OK. Going to HR, howeve, is not required in all cases.

In one sexual harassment situation (a direct, not involving me), we chose not to go to HR. It was absolutely the right thing to do.

Sexual Harassment isn't a craze, and it didn't start with the now-famous testimony (although it did break through into additional media). Yes, context is critical to determining if it is "harassment." That doesn't mean it's all relative and that it can't be a real problem. Careers are ruined when things don't get reported, too. We just don't hear about it.

And "fitting in" is a good idea, and typically it takes some sacrifice to do so. Other times we need to call out those whose inability to "fit in" puts others at risk.

As is often the case, US41 and I are in violent agreement:

As a manager, you are paid to make tough calls. Don't simply make it HR's problem. Be a leader.

John

dacoug's picture

A friend had a similar situation much worse in the level of impropriety; of the responses I have seen so far the one suggestion that has not been mentioned is NOW is the right time to begin looking for a new role/new company or both.

You are now radioactive in event no one else has notified you. Wrong place/wrong time... sorry.