Which choice is Harassment?

The #MeToo movement is a huge positive as we try to move forward with achieving a fair and equatable society regardless of gender. However, as it moves forward at lightening speed, men and women are getting nervous. There are questions about the boundaries and where this should end. We want to make progress but not trigger a backlash. The issues are extremely complex and that complexity can be illustrated with this simple example:

Pete has worked for a company for several years. Pete is married and in his mid 30s. He is a the team leader of a small team of 4 employees who perform the same job function.  While Pete has been there, the team members tend to be like Pete: males in their 30s with similar interests. Because they work closely together, Pete has always tried to build relationships among his teammates. The team gets along really well and is recognized for their teamwork and leadership. One way Pete has done this is by sharing his season tickets to the local professional basketball team.

Normally, Pete goes with his wife to the games. But when she can’t make it, he will often choose to take one of his co-workers. Pete has found it is a great way to blow off steam and build friendship and camaraderie by having some one-on-one time.

Recently, one of Pete’s co-workers left the company. He was replaced by Rachel, a 20-something single female. She seems really nice and has fit in with the others so far. Pete just discovered that he has an available ticket for next weeks game, and it would be Rachel’s turn to go as Pete tends to rotate the tickets. All of the other co-workers know he does this. Peter doesn’t know if Rachel likes basketball, as it has never come up.

Should Pete invite Rachel or not?

If he invites her, she might interpret it as Pete asking her out. She might interpret the invitation as harassment. Even if she doesn’t, others might see them together alone and spread rumors. And even though Pete isn’t attracted to Rachel, something about going out on the town with a single woman doesn’t feel completely right to Pete. Besides, since Pete is her team lead she might feel obligated to go to please Pete.

On the other hand, if she doesn’t go she will not get the same opportunity to spend time with Pete that the others have. Pete recognizes this is an important part of networking and building relationships at work. And she would likely get wind of the fact that Pete takes everyone to the games except her. Peter recognizes that this could negatively impact her ability to advance in the company.

What should Pete do?

2 thoughts on “Which choice is Harassment?

  1. chanson

    I’m going to recommend that Pete stop taking his subordinates out on one-on-one evenings. And not in a “fairness means nobody gets nice things” sense, but rather because it’s not the kind of reward that Pete thinks it is. I’m sure he sincerely believes that he’s the world’s coolest boss for doing this, and I imagine some of his team members like it for reals — others probably “like” spending their free evening watching a game with their boss in the same way that everyone always seems to laugh at all of the boss’s jokes…

    And look at the situation: “While Pete has been there, the team members tend to be like Pete: males in their 30s with similar interests.” If Pete were a really skilled manager, he’d understand the value of having a variety of diverse perspectives — not just gender, but age, interests, etc. It’s not just the woman who’s left out in the cold here. You know who else doesn’t have quite the same opportunity to be chummy with Pete? The nerd who hates sports and would rather be watching Star Trek, but sits through the game anyway, bored to death.

    But your thought experiment points to an interesting new way bosses can analyse their policies. If requiring X of a young female subordinate would look like harassment, then maybe you should think twice about requiring X of any of your subordinates.

  2. Erick Kuhni

    Regarding Chanson’s comment:

    I agree there are a number of challenges here. Probably a number of solutions too, for example, fewer games but more people attending at a time? But the point is, the logistics can be worked out, and there’s always a give an take. The employee who prefers watching Star-Trek. I’m not a big sports fan either, but I’ve attended a fair number of games simply because I was invited. Sure, Pete could try and be more thoughtful, but the employee could do the same thing. The diversity issue has seemed to turn into a one-way road against any hierarchy. There has to be more balance here. Sure, Pete could be more sympathetic to other people’s interests, but I don’t honestly see a lot of sincerity in the diversity arguments. I see a lot of surface-level rhetoric, that is actually designed to be alienating. I see two paths;

    1) you can always complain about your bosses lack of sensitivity simply by pushing the boundaries of uniqueness always one degree further than the current standard. For example, now in addition to race, religion, age, gender, culture, income, disability, we now have an added class of ‘entertainment preference’?

    2) We can learn that sometimes are unique differences only clash to the degree that we mutually wish them too. Sure, put it in Pete’s ear that he might want to buy movie tickets once in a while too…but also let the Star Trek fan know that it’s sometimes socially smart and thoughtful to accept kindness as just that. You were invited to a game, and it could benefit your career…go to the game dude.

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