The #MeToo era started when Hollywood actresses came out publicly against Harvey Weinstein in 2017 and told about his horrific sexual misconduct. A Pew Research survey indicated that 51 percent of employees felt that this cultural movement made it harder to work with members of the opposite sex instead of easier. Read on to examine six guidelines for interacting with co-workers of the opposite sex without making a situation uncomfortable.
1. Make Your Intentions Clear
If you're meeting alone with a member of the opposite sex, make your intentions and expectations clear. Telling a co-worker, boss, manager, supervisor or upper-level executive, "I want to talk to you," does not cut it anymore because it can be misinterpreted as romantic interest. Instead, be clear as to the purpose of the meeting. For example, say you want to expand your networking contacts by gauging that person's strategy on how to accomplish that feat.
2. Understand Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment, as defined by the law, is intentional and obvious to the point that it leads to a hostile work environment or adverse hiring decisions on the part of a company. Sexual harassment is rarely inadvertent or accidental. One-off comments, simple teasing or isolated incidents are nothing to worry about, in general. It's the repeated or constant behavior that becomes a problem with regards to interactions with the opposite sex. If you feel you're the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, speak up immediately, talk to a supervisor or HR, or file a formal complaint.
3. Recognize That Most Men Do Not Harass
Most men in the workplace are not harassers when it comes to the opposite sex, even though the #MeToo era seems to show the reverse is true. The reality is that men and women must work together in a professional setting. One-on-one meetings and riding in an elevator together do not mean someone wants to engage in sexual harassment.
4. Discuss the Rule of Consent
Physical contact should be reserved for nonworking environments. This includes hugging, massaging, grabbing and even kissing. The rule here is to ask for consent. If you talk to someone who is crying, ask them if they want a hug or a simple hand on the shoulder as a way to show support. If the person says no, then "no" means no, and you should back off from that moment forward.
5. Apply the One Chance Rule
Statistics show around 50 percent of employees engage in office romances. These kinds of interpersonal relationships are inevitable since people spend 40 hours or more together during a week. Both Facebook and Google have a "one chance" rule when it comes to dating a co-worker. That means you get one chance to ask someone on a date. Once the person says no, there are no second chances. This harkens back to asking for consent for physical contact.
6. Mentor the Opposite Sex
Instead of avoiding the opposite sex, executives should mentor more of them. Rather than only inviting men to business trips, social outings or one-on-one business meetings, bring more women into the fold to improve diversity in the workplace.
Avoiding the opposite sex at work is impossible. Rather than making the office uncomfortable, set boundaries for behavior to foster positive interactions.
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