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February 13, 2018 10:10 PM

How To Handle Workplace Harassment

The MeToo movement has been sweeping the country, and now women in KELOLAND are speaking out. The movement addresses harassment and unequal treatment women face in all areas of life.

KELOLAND News decided to look at this issue within the workplace. We sit down with a group of local, businesswomen to discuss what MeToo means to them, and how men and women can work together to find a solution.

Three women from different backgrounds, with different experiences, and different ideas. Each one has thoughts on the struggles of being a woman in the workplace; even when it comes to the simplest joke.

"I think those little comments, where you're right, maybe they are innocent or not said in any malicious way. But those little tiny comments can start to chip away and make you question your value at work," said EMBE Marketing Director, Abby Bischoff. 

"You know, from comments about dress to weight loss or more personal comments than that even. I see a wide range," said employment lawyer with Davenport Evans Lawyers, Jean Bender. 

Sammi: How would you guys see these things impacting a woman's ability to do her job?

"I think you're distracted with it. It's just another layer of stress in which you feel like you have to carry yourself in a certain way. You have to be careful with your words. You have to dress the part, but also again roll with the punches. You don't want to be a wet blanket. You don't want to be a, I don't know. We live in the midwest and we're always very passive in the way that we interact with each other to people's faces. Then you take that home and internalize that poor interaction you had with someone but you don't want to be rude," said Downtown Sioux Falls Vice President, Brienne Maner. 

Sammi: And of course every situation is different, but when would you think it's appropriate to take that next step? From a legal standpoint, where do you start out? 

"Well from a legal standpoint and a reality standpoint, I think as soon as you start to feel uncomfortable, if you can do it, it would be great to address it with the person you feel uncomfortable with. But a lot of times you don't feel comfortable doing that. So then I would say as soon as possible, as soon as you start to feel like a line has been crossed, that there's been a violation of company policy, then you should follow the company policy and if you've got an HR department that's where you can report it," said Bender. 

"I think the MeToo movement is taking the stigma off of speaking up for yourself because a lot of that fear, it's fear-based reality that we're afraid we're going to get fired. We just talked about all these things. We feel like we're not going to be a part of the group and it feels like there's this whole army of men and women that are like we've got your back and we're going to be there for you and it's going to be okay. And we believe you. I think it's the biggest messaging coming out of this. We believe you. Please speak up. You're protected," said Maner. 

"And I have a unique experience. I also do freelance photography, and so I photograph weddings and at a wedding that I photographed I experienced some very strong verbal and crossing the line with some physical harassment from a groomsman that was in one of the weddings I was photographing. It was something I didn't talk about. Then when the MeToo movement came about, it really, it made me say, okay. This is something I can talk about. My experience. And share this experience and say, that it doesn't just happen in Hollywood and it doesn't just happen in D.C.," said Bischoff. 

"But at the end of the day, if you do speak up, that kind of takes the monkey off your back and puts it on your employers back or whoever it is. Whether it's in a social setting that the abuse is happening, it takes the burden off of you and places it on the person where it should be," said Bender. 

"If they hear a comment from one of their male coworkers, they can say hey, I'm not comfortable with that. Or that would probably make a woman feel uncomfortable. I think that's a big piece of it. This movement has made a lot of people realize how many people experience it and that it's on everybody to help change the culture," said Bischoff. 

"Guys should be comfortable participating in that, knowing that it's not going to result in everybody losing their job. Because frankly, most of the time when I research and investigate these kind of things, if the action took place of the comment made and I go and talk to the person who allegedly made those comments. A lot of times all it takes is me talking to them, and they're like oh! Okay, I'm glad somebody told me that was a problem. I wouldn't have thought of that. Then we can move forward and it doesn't have to be off with their head, as well," said Bender.  

"Men and women, just ask questions. Right? Like, if you're unsure if that comment makes somebody uncomfortable, ask a woman that you know, say, if I were to say this to you at work would that cross a line? They're probably going to tell you. Women aren't out to get men, and men aren't out to get women. It's just some shifts that are happening in culture," said Bischoff.


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