A Thursday morning roundtable discussion on sexual harassment brought together more than a dozen women of public and private professional backgrounds, including at least one who endured sexual harassment in an era when there wasn't the legal precedent or peer support as seen in today's #MeToo movement.
Assemblymember Monica Wallace hosted the gathering, explaining that the invited guests represented various backgrounds and could provide various points of view which may prove useful as Albany continues its exploration into sexual harassment in the workplace and how to best address it.
"I really want to hear from experts on the ground, women who I knew and women whose opinions I trust, so that I can really be confident that whatever legislation we're enacting will be something that not only protects victims of discrimination but also make sure that we have due process for the accused," Wallace said.
Numerous points were raised, including the fact that harassment isn't always men against women but also other women against women, men on men or some combination where one in power exerts it improperly and in a threatening manner. Also raised was the point that policy models are not always compatible, that not every workplace environment is the same.
Among the participants was Kathleen Neville, a past victim of sexual abuse. Her case dates back to the early 1980s and was the first sexual harassment case ever brought before a Federal Court judge in the Western District of New York.
Neville is now a consultant whose services include expert advice on human resources, corporate communication and other workplace issues. She is also an advocate for past victims, as well as employers who are trying to improve their internal culture to better address and eradicate the problem.
"I feel very strongly, not only women but men need information on this issue," Neville said. "That's how we're going to do it, men and women together to become more aware. With the Me Too and Time's Up movement, I found it very startling because I've known we've had a serious problem, an epidemic. But nothing has been done about it. We've gotten very complacent."
The next step, Wallace explained, is to take the points gathered at Thursday morning's gathering and bring them to the Assembly, where discussions of updated legislation are underway. There was consensus among her guests on some points, Wallace noted, but no consensus on others.
"One important takeaway is there's a difference between sexual harassment in the workplace and civility," she said. "Unfortunately, as much as we'd like to, we can't legislate civility in the workplace. There are people who are going to be uncivil and act inappropriately, even though it doesn't rise to the level of sexual harassment. Coming up with a clear definition of what sexual harassment is, is also a big piece of this, I think."