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

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 pro quo is where the boss says, “Sleep with me and you get the job,” or “If you don’t sleep with me, you’re fired.” We rarely see those kinds of cases because pretty much everyone knows that’s illegal.

Much more frequent is the boss or powerful person who comes on to a subordinate without making a promise or threat. Bosses may not realize that subordinates can feel powerless to say no because they may believe their jobs depend on them going along with the advances. Or they may be so shocked that they freeze. All of this and more is in the show.

By the way, you can subscribe for free for one week (and we don’t get anything from Apple for this recommendation).

What you should do: Choose a weekend you want to binge watch and get ready for a program that is better acted and scripted, and more thought-provoking, than any training video. No matter what your opinion or experience with sexual harassment, it will give you a new perspective.

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.