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  • Harassment

    Fun? In a mandatory respectful workspaces class???

    by R. Makana Risser Chai Last week, after my program on preventing harassment, bullying, and disrespect, a manager said, “That was informative and actually it was fun! And we really needed it.” Fun? In a mandatory respectful workspaces class??? One of the themes of my program is to have compassion for ourselves and others. Whether we have experienced harassment or have been harassers—or both—we can have empathy for each other. That doesn’t mean we accept bad behavior, but it does recognize that none of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes can be pretty funny. Of course, this issue is important. It’s emotional for many people, and some who have experienced it have been traumatized. We need to respect those who have been injured. At the same time, one thing I’ve realized from the presentations I’ve done is that people don’t learn from an overwhelmingly serious lecture. They need to keep interested and engaged. One way to do that is to chuckle at some of the dumb mistakes people make, either through real-life stories or through cartoons or videos such as this one on microaggressions. In an interview with Krista Tippet in July, 2018, the wonderful…

  • Uncategorized

    White Male Comedians

    By Makana Risser Chai “One of the recurring themes of comedians at standup open mics is if you’re a white male, you can’t say anything anymore. Do you kind of feel that way?” That’s the question Cain Kamano asked me in this Backstory Podcast. This is the answer I wish I had given. You can say anything you want. You just have to find the right audience. Half the country voted for the former president, so if you go to those states, you’ll probably find a fan base. Australia has different standards than the U.S. Bill Burr—who I happen to love even though he’s not politically correct—had great success in Europe and filmed his last special in London. If you want a U.S. mainstream audience, you can’t say anything racist or sexist anymore—but that still leaves a lot of topics. And this isn’t new since #MeToo or Black Lives Matter. This has been the rule for decades for comedians who want to be on TV or get a movie deal. Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Martin didn’t get where they are by using racist or sexist jokes. Comedians are always supposed to punch up or at least across. That means not…

  • HR Law Training & Investigations

    What Racism Costs Everyone

    The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGhee is a compelling perspective on racism. McGhee, an African American economist, focuses on the fact that many people who are biased see our society as a “zero-sum game”—they assume if Blacks get to “win,” Whites must lose. She explores whether this assumption is supported by the data. She starts with a description of the community swimming pools built in the 1950s and 1960s. Built to rival the best resorts, some of these public pool complexes could hold thousands of people at once. They were filled with children and adults who, in the days before air conditioning, were able to use them to cool off. There were more than 2000 of these pools across the U.S. However, most were for Whites only. In the 1960s, Blacks sued to open them to all people. They won. The response of the vast majority of the cities was to close the pools down. As a result, everyone lost. Another example is the reduction of public support for college. After WWII, the GI Bill allowed thousands of mostly White veterans to attend school at no cost and get…

  • Harassment

    I’m white, and I’m biased

    As a nice liberal progressive white woman, of course I don’t like to think I’m biased. I have spent most of my professional life fighting racism–as an attorney representing victims of harassment and discrimination, and as a trainer presenting programs to prevent harassment, discrimination and bias, and to increase diversity, inclusion and belonging. And yet, I have been socialized in a world that privileges white people. I don’t have to worry about any member of my family walking or jogging down the street being seen as a criminal because of the color of his skin. I don’t have to worry about them dying at the hands of police or white supremacists. So I like to think I’m not biased. In 1980, I went to the Democratic convention in NYC as a reporter. There was an alternative people’s convention in the Bronx on Saturday morning. My friends in Manhattan told me not to go there at all, and definitely not alone because it was a “dangerous neighborhood.” I went anyway. I took the train and came out into a beautiful summer morning. I walked along the neighborhood main street and saw smiling families out enjoying the day. From the restaurants came…

  • Sexual Harassment

    Sexual Harassment Insights from Steve Carell’s Performance (Not in The Office)

    Sexual harassment training videos are usually ridiculous, but now there’s a great way to understand many of the issues that can arise, including implicit quid pro quo, cover-ups by management, complicity by male and female bystanders, failures by HR, and impacts on truly consensual relationships. The Apple TV series, The Morning Show, starring Jennifer Anniston, Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is a fantastic window into the dynamics of sex in the workplace. The series is 10 episodes, and they’re all great. But if you want to get the essence of it in one hour, check out season 1, episode 8. A flashback, it is actually the first episode chronologically. In it we see Carell, as a sort of Matt Lauer character, come on to a woman subordinate. What is happening from his perspective? From her perspective?  What could be the short-term and long-term results? These are questions we can ponder and discuss with friends and family. To see some answers, you can watch the next two episodes as well—or go back to the beginning and watch all 10. One of the most difficult sexual harassment concepts for many people to grasp is implied quid pro quo. Explicit quid…

  • Harassment
    Photo by Tristan Ramberg on Unsplash

    Court rules calling women “sensitive flowers” shows gender bias

    All employers should provide training not only on preventing sexual harassment, but also eliminating gender bias.

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