There’s been a renewed interest from news outlets once again surrounding the way that men treat the women we work with. All of this brought on by the accusations leveled against former Vice President Joe Biden. It brings me to what I always refer to as the third pillar of executive communication: DON’T BE CREEPY.
Before I write one more word, let me just say that I love Joe Biden. Politics aside, there is so much in his biography from his blue-collar, Catholic upbringing to the unspeakable tragedy he suffered as a young man that I can relate to. I’ve not always agreed with him, but I have always liked and respected him and I still do. I just think he really needs to read this post.
For far too long men have made the women we work with uncomfortable. Between comments about their appearance which undermine their professionalism, to standing too close or touching in a way that makes their skin crawl, we’ve committed the sins that make working as a woman much harder than working as a man. While we’ve come a long way, we still have a long way to go. Here are some very basic, yet important rules to keep in mind for both genders as it relates to not being the office creep.
The Only Appropriate Place To Touch Another Person In Business Is Their Bicep
If we get below the bicep, it’s aggressive, almost like a mother leading her toddler through a mall. If we go to the shoulder or go forbid the back, we’ve bought a one-way ticket to Creepyland. But the bicep is safe. It’s where we pat someone to say “well done!” It’s where we can make contact with someone to keep them from getting too close to us. It’s a safe place that is non-threatening and non sexual that allows some contact but doesn’t diminish anyone’s dignity. Please, Joe, if you’re reading, make a note and read it every day: The Only Appropriate Place To Touch Another Person In Business Is Their Bicep.
Arm’s Length Is Close Enough
When we stand next to someone, unless it’s incredibly loud and we’re trying desperately to hear, there’s never any reason to stand closer to someone that arm’s length. The days of standing behind a woman and smelling her hair, or getting in close and whispering a secret should be abandoned and never revisited. Arms’s length is a great rule of thumb because taller people tend to have longer arms and speak louder therefore don’t need to sand as close. Shorter people tend to have shorter arms and smaller voices and need to be closer to be heard. Because everyone’s arms are of different lengths, it keeps people from violating the space of others while making sure they are heard. Stop standing so close and making your coworkers uncomfortable.
Her Appearance Is None Of Your Business
You preferred her hair shorter. You like it when she wears red. Her skirt might be a little shorter than it should be today. It doesn’t matter. IT’S. NONE. OF. YOUR. BUSINESS. It doesn’t matter if she’s prettier when she smiles, it’s not her job to brighten the office. It doesn’t matter what your preference is, it matters that SHE likes the way she’s dressed / styled her hair / wears her make up. When men comment on the appearance of women in the workplace, we are making their presence sexual. It doesn’t matter if that’s the intention or not, that’s how it’s perceived and it must stop yesterday. If company policy is being broken, let HR handle it and be done. Otherwise, it is absolutely none of our business how they look and we need to keep our comments to ourselves.
I realize that many of the rules have changed and some men are having a hard time adjusting their behavior. Joe Biden released a statement this week where he apologized that he made anyone uncomfortable claiming that it was never his intention. I respected the statement and thought it was a nuanced and sensitive answer to a nuanced and sensitive issue. That doesn’t change the fact that if your behavior continues after your apology, your apology is worthless. As a final note, I realize that there are plenty of women who will write more intelligently on this subject that I can, but I also realize that we as men have to do better policing ourselves and that’s why I’m asking in the strongest words possible, please, DON’T BE CREEPY.