Sexual Harassment and Aloha

Sexual Harassment and Aloha

Sexual harassment training takes skill to be effective. The other day I facilitated a Train-the-Trainer for experienced sexual harassment trainers. There were people from Hawaii, the continental US, Guam, American Samoa, and Korea. Some of them work in Hawaii, others in their home countries.

One issue we talked about was aloha hugs. Some people love them. Some don’t appreciate them at work—including some Native Hawaiians who feel they should be reserved for family and close friends. Other people just don’t want to be touched by people they don’t know well. They don’t welcome touching–and unwelcome touching is sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment may include hugs

One trainer said in her culture, hugs are important. She feels uncomfortable with people who don’t hug. Another trainer said he feels uncomfortable with people who do hug. Each looked at the other like they were a little bit odd. To demonstrate the range of perception people have, I asked the group to put themselves in a bell-shaped curve based on how comfortable they are with hugs. On one end of the curve, the men and women stood apart from each other, many with their arms crossed. At the other end, the men and women stood arm in arm.

Many of the trainers said later that was the most powerful part of the program. Though they knew, intellectually, that people are different, this exercise allowed them to really see it.

Sexual harassment may include compliments

Hugs are just one of the ways that people define sexual harassment differently. Compliments are another. Some men have learned that complimenting women on their appearance is good. Some women feel compliments are harassment. And some of us feel it depends on the relationship we have with the person, the context, whether the person ever complimented us on our work performance, and many other factors.

I think true aloha aligns with the Platinum Rule: treat people the way THEY want to be treated. And when in doubt, don’t.

We cover all this in our programs on sexual harassment prevention.

By R. Makana Risser Chai

Makana Risser Chai is a trainer, HR consultant and former Silicon Valley attorney who specializes in teaching courses on creating respectful workplaces by preventing harassment, bullying, disrespect, and unconscious bias.