Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This...  June/July 2001 Issue Number 24

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the area of sexual harassment, diversity management and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events

Strategic Management of Change: July 23- August 3, 2001. Linda Willing will be instructing this class at the Florida Fire College, Ocala.

Women Chief Officers' Luncheon: August 25, 2001 at Fire-Rescue International in New Orleans. Call 630-990-2390 for more information.

In the News

Rethinking Minorities

Does the word "minority" have meaning when there is no majority group among the population? This is a question facing an increasing number of communities in the United States.

Census figures released in March of this year showed that non-Hispanic whites in California currently make up 47% of the state's population, the first time whites were not in the majority in that state since the Census Bureau began keeping records. Hispanics accounted for 32%, Asians 11% and blacks 7%.

In a world that is increasingly diverse, some say it is time to retire the word "minority." In fact, the San Diego City Council voted in April to strike the word from official use. Deputy Mayor George Stevens brought the resolution to the council, commenting that the word "minority" has often been used to signify someone who is different from the dominant group, or inferior in some way. "I'm not less than anybody," he commented. "I haven't used the word in a very long time."

However, some people worry that discarding the term "minority" could lead to a false conclusion about how diversified the United States actually is. Except for within Hawaii, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, and now California, non-Hispanic whites make up a dominant majority of the population in other states. Even in places where racial and ethnic diversity is more widespread, whites may still occupy most positions of leadership and power within the community.

Still, it's worth asking the question. How do you apply labels such as "minority" and "majority" when that reality no longer holds true? Are such labels still useful? If not, what language will we use to talk about the changing world we live in?

Source: The Associated Press, May 8, 2001.

News Brief

The number of gays and lesbians discharged from the military rose by 17% last year. This represented the highest total of such discharges since the beginning of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in 1994. The number of discharges from the Army more than doubled, while the Air Force figures were cut in half.

Source: The New York Times, June 2, 2001.

Sexual Harassment Update

Men as Victims of Sexual Harassment

Increasing numbers of complaints about sexual harassment in the workplace are made by men. The EEOC reports that men's claims now account for 13.5% of all sexual harassment charges brought to the commission, nearly double the percentage of a decade ago. Most of these complaints involve harassment by men toward men. The complaints being received by the EEOC involve such conduct as unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature, sexual taunts and humiliating jokes, and outright sexual propositions.

Although dismissed by some employers as normal horseplay, the EEOC is taking such complaints seriously. Three years ago, the Supreme Court affirmed that same-sex sexual harassment was possible, regardless of whether it involved any real sexual attraction (see Archives, September-October 1999). And such cases are leading to increasingly large settlements, including a jury award of $7.3 million to a male employee of Dillard's Department Stores who had been harassed by his male supervisor.

In many cases, complaints of sexual harassment by men are discounted and even used as a source of more harassment against the one who complains. Some employers pass off such inappropriate conduct as simply juvenile, or as harmless locker-room antics. Those who complain may be labeled as weak and disloyal, and are often shunned as a result.

The key to eliminating sexual harassment in all its forms is to set consistent professional standards for conduct in the workplace. Although these standards might be somewhat different depending on the type of workplace it is, no occupation is exempt from such consideration. This is a big problem with enforcing sexual harassment policies within the emergency services: firefighters are accustomed to behaving one way when out in public, and quite another when "home alone" in the station. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with having different standards of conduct for different work functions, it is not okay to have no standard of conduct at all. It's still work, people are still getting paid to be there, and what people do to and around others, even during down time, has real impact on the professional mission of the organization.

Sexual harassment is not about protecting fragile women from the rough behavior of men at work. It is about insuring a fair and equitable work environment for everyone, men and women alike. More and more men are feeling empowered to speak up against inappropriate and harassing behavior in the workplace, which has probably affected their work performance for years. It's about time.

Source: The New York Times, June 10, 2001.

© Linda F. Willing, 2001

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