Last week, I watched the fierce and disgusted Judge Rosemarie Aquilina demonstrate what it was to be
Last week, I watched the fierce and disgusted Judge Rosemarie Aquilina demonstrate what it was to be brave, human and call a spade a spade. She delighted in delivering a 175 year sentence to Larry Nassar, the disgraced US Gymnastics sports doctor. He was convicted for molesting over 250 underage girls over a 25 year career with US Gymnastics and Michigan University.
Judge Aquilina, uncharacteristically for a judge, made it glaringly clear to anyone watching and everyone participating, where she stood in this situation. She called it her privilege to sentence Nassar and in her words “sign his death warrant.”
What also came out during the testimony in that courtroom was that the university president, ombudsmen and US gymnastics leadership employing this doctor were all told on numerous occasions of his crimes. The young gymnasts had begged to be heard, to have the authorities listen and act.
Instead, both the academic and sports establishments blocked their ears and looked the other away.
While the culture of abuse permeated their adolescence, the authorities called it sports therapy. While tearing up their lives, the abuse remained hidden, under the surface to everyone else — except the suffering children, their families and of course the inescapable abuser, at the end of a terrifying examination table.
Watching the news, we can’t deny that many of us have Larry Nassars in our workplaces today. And indeed sometimes their impact can be almost as frightening for adults when harassment and abuse occurs in our place of work, where we are supposed to feel safe. We take for granted a certain level of protection from these types of behaviors and repercussions for wrongdoing against us. But, in many workplaces that may not be the norm.
As an HR Leader and organizational consultant for over 20 years, I wonder how safe most people feel at work. I’m sure as leaders you do, too. Not only from a risk and image management perspective, but as far as our legacies are concerned — we need to know what environment we are creating and empowering, that we will be leaving behind us. Shouldn’t we want to know what is truly going on and how safe our employees feel at the end of our meeting and boardroom tables?
But what happens when the abuse is going on under the surface? What if the abuse was so subtle that we can’t put our finger on exactly what it is that is happening? I call this the “ugly shades of gray” – the undertones and innuendo that plays out in the shadow — that’s not in the written rules of behavior, but very much the unwritten. This is about the subtle bias and discrimination that takes place via meaningful glances, jokes and common understandings. These are the methods that allow those in power to stay there and keep others down.
To counter these sorts of behaviors, we need a new rule book – The 3 N’s. To explain, let me start by giving you an example.
Last Friday, my cousin Lexi, a PR Manager with an imposing stature, told me that she was standing at the water cooler with 3 male colleagues. Her colleague Peter shared an off-color joke and another one sniggered. The impact on Lexi was a shiver and a groan as she bristled, blushed and shrunk as much as two of her 5 ft 11 inches. Yet, instead of just letting it go, and leaving her to wonder “Was that Harassment?” as it was left to smear its remains all over her confidence, her colleague Mark stepped up. He whirled around facing Peter, his eyes rolling, and said: Peter, that joke is sexist. It’s completely inappropriate. You know it, I know it, we all know it. Just cut that stuff out.”
Once the applause dies down…Let’s deconstruct what happened in this scenario. Let’s take a look at an approach called The 3 Ns. NAME IT; NEUTRE IT; NURTURE IT.
NAME IT: The status quo was challenged. The elephant in the room was tasered. The inappropriate behavior called out. It was NAMED. The minute we bring attention to what is really going on, we can all see it for what it is. Those suffering as a result of the behavior are acknowledged, for their human feelings. Their unease is validated. As a result of naming it, what we do is…
NEUTRE IT: Once a dysfunction is identified for all to see, it can then become classified as inappropriate behavior and neutered. The impact of the neutering can be far reaching. It touches the person being inappropriate; the person bearing the brunt of the inappropriateness and all those in the vicinity who often sense the unease but have not addressed it. Once we’ve named and neutered the behavior, the victim (and those around who also identify as victims) and the whole organizational environment are able to begin on the path to being nurtured…
NURTURE IT: Nurturing of a healthy culture enables everyone to bring their best self to work, deliver their best work and ensure an environment where the focus is on talented individuals and teams delivering innovative and creative work. Everyone’s best work takes place in an environment that is clean, transparent and free of destructive undertones and passive aggressive displays of power.
Judge Aquilina actively listened to the young gymnasts’ stories, told in shaking voices through their tears. They shared their traumas, their regrets, their horror stories. Through it all she made her human feelings very clear. She spoke nurturingly to the young women. She oozed empathy, anger and shame about what adults had allowed them to endure – in the shadows.
She brought me to tears of admiration for her courage and human-ness. She extended her immense power as a human beyond her role, as she became therapist, healer, cheerleader and…to the doctor, inquisitioner. When it was all over, she told the girls “Leave your pain here. Go out and do your magnificent things.”
Judge Aquilina stepped out, spoke up. She named it, neutered it and nurtured them. This human judge became the change she…and we… wanted to see.