Post Weinstein, men in workplaces need to think more about how they behave. Strangely, the question I’ve heard asked most in the media seems to be whether men can compliment women on how they look? Let’s finish with that, there are bigger fish to fry. Like, how we behave about the gender pay gap?
We can learn from the recent ‘jokey’ conversation about Carrie Gracie’s pay between two of the BBC’s big beasts: John Humphrys and Jon Sopel. Other similar conversations have probably happened; they just haven't been taped and leaked.
An annoyed Humphrys said three things about the exchange: (1) that he didn’t know it was being taped, (2) that it was ‘jokey’ – he and ‘Sopel’ are in the habit of winding each other up. The ubiquitous modern term would be banter. (3) "It has absolutely nothing to do with my views on women’s pay, which I repeat and have said consistently should be equal – equal pay for equal work."
As someone who’s focused on workplace behaviour for twenty plus years, I’d suggest three ideas (possibly rules) on Mr Humphrys three points.
(1) Act like you’re always on tape. You always have an impact on someone. Others will hear, see or hear about what you do. If they're somehow disaffected (with you, with the place you work, possibly with themselves) they can make use of what you've done. I often sit with people (a few who’ve been caught on tape, most of whom haven’t) fervently wishing they would have thought more about their potential impact.
A tool I often use with people (normally men) whose employer wants them to change their behaviour is getting them to think about an embedded camera crew catching their behaviour. Think about watching that film with me now. How would that feel?
Everyone needs to realise that an immediate result of Weinstein and #MeToo is that employers have to take all complaints more seriously. That is whether or not there is (as here) evidence or whether it’s a "she said, he said" complaint. I’ve written elsewhere about the over-riding importance of an employer deciding which party it believes rather than taking the safe route of "there’s insufficient evidence on which to proceed."
Fortunately for Mr Humphrys, Mr Sopel seemed to be cognisant of the danger when he said that it was a conversation he’d like to have, the implication being "not here, not in front of others."
(2) Why you did the thing is not important to anyone. In the world of workplace behaviour, intent butters no parsnips. Almost certainly Mr Humphrys was thinking first about bantering with a colleague. The sort of exchange mirrored in workplaces all over the world? Between men, between men and women, between women? What everyone needs to grasp is that comments made in this way, when they’re reconsidered in a context that the participants never envisaged when they uttered them, there is no defence that it was only banter; that s/he wasn’t being serious. This leads into the third ‘rule’.
(3) Your words when your guard is down reveal far more than your words for public consumption. It’s very difficult to listen (as I have a number of times) to Mr Humphrys saying "Oh dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should lose money; you know that don’t you?" and then to re-read the public consumption statement his statement quoted above.
I don’t know what he genuinely believes about the question of women’s pay. I’m not him. But if I’m asked to assess his true beliefs, with nothing more to go on, his conversation with Mr Sopel bears far more weight for me evidentially than any number of protestations he now puts out in career saving mode. Anyone hearing the remarks probably felt the same way too (which is why I imagine they were leaked).
As I write I can hear men and women shouting, ‘So now we can’t have a joke with somebody at work, in case we upset someone?’ I’ll be condemned as part of the PC brigade. First and foremost, I’m from the brigade of ‘I’ve sat in rooms with hundreds of people who’ve ruined their careers’. And I’m 100% committed to creating kinder, fairer, more productive workplaces.
Here’s my (three stage) tip for how to behave.
(1) First of all, each one of us (men) needs to understand we’re in a privileged position. In Michael Kimmel’s words (please watch his TED talk if you haven’t already) men have been benefited from the grandest affirmative action campaign in the history of the world. It’s called ‘the history of the world’. Mr Humphrys (and others) may think that the £600k+ salary about which they brag and banter is due solely to hard work and talent. It isn’t, it’s easier for us. If it helps, ask a woman doing your job to tell you three things that make it more difficult for her to do the job. And when she responds, listen to and understand rather than argue.
(2) Then we need to sit down quietly, with a pen and paper (or its digital equivalent) and ask ourselves: "What is my position on equal pay?" There’s a supplementary which Mr Humphrys clearly struggles with "Even if that means men will inevitably get less pay/opportunity?" Explore your values, understand what’s made you believe what you do. It may be about fairness or something your Mum said to you once or the world you want your son(s)/daughter(s) to grow up in. Be clear about your motivation, then share it with others.
(3) Then you need to change your behaviour. The product of completing the first two stages (of simply recognising your privilege and enunciating your position) will naturally be that you will be more thoughtful of the impact you have. But at least once a day I want you to think "how has that been received?" "Could I have said/done that differently?"
This is about having consideration for others. It’s not difficult. And you’ll probably be able to compliment someone on their dress (if you think that’s sensible).