How Do You Feel?

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I just listened to a phone in on the subject of harassment in the workplace. Highly emotive issue.

1. A survey says it’s on the increase. I don’t believe that for a minute. Like many other statistics of reported activity it’s skewed contextually. I’m pretty sure it’s just more people are coming forward. I’m also sure there’s less tolerance.

I’m also sure people are now more afraid to do it. That’s definitely a good thing.

2. It’s partly cultural. I’ve lived and worked in the UK, France, Spain, Latin America, different parts of the US, Scandinavia, Italy, Asia and Africa. After 5 years in France and Africa I set up my own business in London. I greeted all colleagues male and female every morning with a hug and a kiss because that was the culture I’d lived with. It’s still the culture in many of those countries. I would not dream of initiating so much as a hand on the shoulder in London at work now. No physical contact at all unless initiated by the other person – and even then I’d probably freeze.

Many of my work colleagues from the 1980s are still in contact and read these jottings. Let me know how you felt. I do remember trying to bring on a female engineer starting as assistant and after 9 months she asked to be transferred to the office because she was sick and tired of the banter, the leering, the bottom pinching she experienced as a nervous and lowly junior assistant. I was really disappointed and I still feel bad that her career was derailed. So this is a pretty serious issue.

Before anyone passes judgement one way or the other on people complaining about how others treat them, do consider the context. Race, gender, religious observance, disability, age, social background, sexuality – all opportunities for ‘’banter’’ or ‘’harrassment’’ depending on what side you’re on.

Here’s my story: Over twenty years ago now I was invited to a lunch party. There were a dozen people at the table, a few of whom I knew slightly. One of the local charmers came up beside me and said in a friendly manner “You’ve got an empty plate there mate. Fancy seconds?” “Thanks very much David that would be great.”

He returned a minute or so later, popped the plate down in front of me and said “There you go Rob, more of everything. Dig in mate!”

I picked up knife and fork and speared the middle of a still empty plate with a loud clang. David roared with laughter and slapped me on the back “Nice one Rob.”

As I write this out to you I feel a burning in my cheeks, a knot in my stomach, heart is palpating.

I got up from the table and begged the person I was with "Please can we leave straight away?“

I didn’t confront him. I didn’t call him a prick. I didn’t demand an apology, then or later. I was 40 years old, a successful producer, employer, father. Yet this “harmless bit of fun”reduced me to a shivering impotent blind fool. Yes fool. When I got to the car I wept.

Nothing has lessened in all the years since on how that still makes me feel. Even my close family think I should get over it. I think I should get over it. I haven’t got over it.