Our Sexual Harassment Problem is a Power Problem

As more news coverage is now pointing out, power imbalances and sexual harassment are linked. The traditional corporate solution is to train people about what unacceptable behavior looks like as it relates to sexual harassment. This is important information for everyone to know. Training will help harassers to avoid behaving inappropriately while also giving the harassed confidence to trust themselves to recognize and speak up when a line has been crossed.

But the long term solution to reducing the incidence of sexual harassment is to focus on its underlying cause, which is dysfunction in our relationship to power and an absence of knowing about its appropriate use. We don’t understand power, which has us careening along a continuum from avoidance to abuse (of which sexual harassment is an extreme example). And at the root of the power dysfunction is a failure to understand boundaries—what they are and why they matter.

Boundaries define where one person ends and another begins. For too long, people have felt as if they can meddle in others’ affairs, whether personally or at work, and so they also allow others to meddle in their affairs. Absent clear boundaries, a person will tolerate minor to major infractions of their boundaries that take their power, or they will feel that they can do the same to others.

In fact, though, humans are equal in the universe. There is no hierarchy in the natural order; everyone follows the same birth, life, death path without distinction and without any grant of superiority over another. It is therefore a type of enslavement to misuse one’s momentary grasp on earthly power to manipulate and control another.

The only behavior consistent with the nature of the universe is to lift up another as an equal. As everyone is on their own unique developmental path as a human being, it is incumbent on those with more understanding of boundaries or who possess greater earthly power to behave responsibly in any situation.

This can be more challenging in a corporate context with its inherently hierarchical structure that holds people accountable for the behaviors and performance of those who report up through them. When someone occupies a position of delegated authority in the corporation but does not also have a developed sense of personal power and clear boundaries, or at least a framework for knowing how to exercise that delegated power appropriately in the corporation, conditions are ripe to violate boundaries and attempt to control others. Similarly, the same fear that drives the one with more delegated power to attempt to control the one with less delegated power disincentivizes protest, thereby setting up a reciprocal agreement to live with the status quo.

Addressing these issues in this challenging corporate context is exactly what Leading from the Heart intends to do.

2 thoughts on “Our Sexual Harassment Problem is a Power Problem

  1. Really good one. I like the term Delegated Power. Working with Governments, I have felt when some people are emboldened to mess with others because the are standing on the behemoth platform of the agency.

    Nice work. Enjoying your thoughts.


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