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How To Deal With Sexual Harassment On The Job


So if you are committed, as Robert People is, to speaking up but maybe just don't know how, what do you do? Gail Stern runs Catharsis Productions. They provide workplace bullying and sexual harassment training for companies, government agencies and the military. She joins us now from the studios of WBEZ in Chicago.

Thanks so much for being with us.

GAIL STERN: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Let me ask you about another aspect of that 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape, which Donald Trump is on. That was, aboard that bus, a workplace. They were talking about Billy Bush's colleague in front of him. There was a crew there, too. Is there anything they could or should have said?

STERN: I think you're pointing out a very challenging situation where you have very public, powerful individuals who are controlling that spotlight. And the crew might feel in a diminished capacity. It is, however, likely that they've observed this kind of behavior before. We know that this isn't the first time that Billy Bush has objectified the subject of an interview. And so we don't know if the crew just accepted that as that's just what he does.

However, if you do have someone who notices that behavior and understands how wrong it is, then if they don't feel safe speaking up in that moment, they should definitely, at minimum, go to human resources but fundamentally go to leadership because it is against the values of any decent organization to make some of its members more vulnerable for the sake of a story.

SIMON: What about people who think, look, you know, I don't get paid enough to go on any campaigns? I just want to do my job and be left alone.

STERN: We know that workplace environments, whether they're military or civilian, that are hostile increase the risk of sexual victimization for those who work there, particularly the women. And that's a big deal. And so if you actively want to say, you know, I really don't care about the women I work with, sucks to be them, we're just going to play with this, you're opting out. You're actively opting out, I think, of being a good person, being a good citizen and a good member of whatever community you're a part of. And I think there's so many different ways to take action that you don't necessarily have to lay down in front of the train to stand up for someone else's rights.

SIMON: Is it wiser to speak up on the spot or to contact HR?

STERN: It depends on the scenario. I would love to encourage as many people to do what feels right for them. If it's on the spot - we use a lot of humor in the work that we do because we find that the humor both diminishes the resistance that folks have to talking about this and gives them permission to have an aha moment without feeling shamed.

Calling out that behavior in that moment and making a joke, pointing out the absurdity of it, like, seriously? You'd really say that? I hope this is satire, right? And that's a way of both calling attention to the comment, signaling to the witnesses you heard it, you didn't let it slide. And it gives permission for the person who said it to go, yeah, yeah, yeah, OK. And at minimum you can go, buddy, that's just not cool. And you don't need to make a federal case about it.

SIMON: Gail Stern, co-founder of Catharsis Productions, thanks so much for being with us.

STERN: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.