PRSA Portland Metro Chapter

Ethics Column #8: How the sexes treat each other at work

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Nov 15

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by Kathy Hubbell, APR, Fellow PRSA

Ethics Consultant and Chair, Professional Development Plans Committee

This month’s topic is close to my heart, and so there has been writing and rewriting of this column. It’s tempting to write only about misogyny in the workplace – those too-often sexist, patronizing, demeaning attitudes some men take toward women. Perhaps my worst experience was nearly 30 years ago, when my then-boss took me out to lunch one day, told me I no longer had a job, and then promptly propositioned me. He had planned it all out to be legal, and I suppose he thought it was ethical. With two small kids at home to support at a single parent, I was dumbfounded. For one thing, I already knew this married man had a mistress on the side. For another… for many others…

Well, ladies, you know. The more common type of offense is the “friend” or colleague who comes in for a hug with wandering hands, or leans in for a kiss on the lips – when absolutely nothing warrants such forced intimacy.

But I have to balance out my bad memories with the fact that for very large portions of my career, my cherished mentors have been men; it’s been men who have taken the time to talk me through my insecurities, given me advice from their own careers, and helped me create a path into the future. Men have been uncommonly generous. I’m writing from the PRSA International Conference in Atlanta, where I always get to see one of them: “Doc” Joe Trahan, who mentored me into the College of Fellows years ago, serving as my “Good Fellow,” then turned around and mentored me into teaching.

So there is that balance. Women have worked on mentoring for a long time, and have helped each other up, as well; there are amazing, giving woman throughout PRSA and in our own local chapter.  But there are also some women in the business world who haven’t handled the workplace well – at least not any better than some of the aforementioned men. Women can be quietly, severely competitive and, often behind the scenes, may sabotage each other. I attribute this to the fact that women have not had equal power in the marketplace, and are still working to gain it; for some women, every other woman feels like a threat. I think as we become more secure in ourselves and our professional accomplishments – and this goes for men as well – we lean much more toward sharing rather than competing, in the spirit of “a rising tide floats all boats.”

Who we are – how we’ve been treated as a result of our gender, of the roles we may have played, and how we’re seen in the eyes of society – all impact our approach toward ethical behavior. It’s very difficult to step outside oneself and take a good, hard look – but it’s also necessary. Remember to ask yourself, “Is this right? Is it fair? Is it truthful?” as you move forward in your professional life.

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