Social Entrepreneurship, Sexual Harassment, and the SnapChat Generation

What do you tell kids about sexual harassment? To give you a bit of background, I run a non-profit start-up for feminists in motorsport. Motorsport is one of the last hold-outs against modernisation. The generation that hit puberty when everyone was starting to mainline political discourse and soft porn (thereby experiencing ultra-liberal values as normal, regardless of their parents’ political orientation) on Tumblr are now entering the motorsport industry and populating my organisation’s membership ranks.

Image credit: College Humour

Someone in my crowd — a freelancer starting her career — wrote about the sexual harassment she had experienced at the hands of a team social media manager. Her reason for doing so was simple: she’d had a non-committal response from the team’s HR person, as the harassment had happened on SnapChat, and she had scant evidence. She had no other recourse but to write about it on her blog.

In a conversation subsequent to her posting that article, she told me about several other people — also about eighteen years old and therefore inappropriately young for a thirty-something year-old man — who’d had similar experiences. None of them want to report the incidents.

I completely understand why they don’t want to be the girl who “ruins a man’s reputation” with a sexual misconduct case. With the basic philosophy towards equality in motorsport, it’s not possible to avoid the stigma of being the career-wrecker if you speak up about harassment. They have no avenue for recourse.

Image credit: TechCrunch

The obvious first step is to research the problem. Except that no academics have looked into the problem. There are some general articles on workplace harassment. Very little sport-specific, and nothing about motorsport.

I’m working completely blind, trying to make recommendations that will help women on the front lines based on zero relevant data. So obviously, I’ve had a few thoughts on how to handle this, but I would like the wisdom of the crowd. Aiming for culture change is the only solution to this problem.

Sacking individual culprits just makes them someone else’s problem. Being sacked for a sexual harassment claim is unlikely to tarnish their reputation enough for them to be unemployed. Another team, perhaps in another series, will pick them up, and I’ll end up with more reports from traumatised young women in my inbox.

Teaching defensive skills to the women smacks of gender policing. I shouldn’t need to write training courses about ‘how to avoid being sexually harassed’ to help my crowd out. Aside from anything, it’s the harassers I should be talking to about stopping their behaviour, not the victims. Being female in public is not a sexual invitation.

There is some merit in having “the talk” with my crowd — explaining the basics of consent, how to respond to sexual harassment and assault, etc. — and it could be used to educate the offenders in a way that doesn’t cause them to be publicly shamed. As satisfying as it would be to host a “name and shame” board for bullies and harassers, shame negatively correlates with sustained behaviour change. And my audience would at least have some weapons in their arsenal going into the situation, if/when it happens.

I have posted this to my writer Facebook page for a curated comments thread. Over to you. What do you say to kids about sexual harassment (and bullying, and discrimination)? How do you arm your social media staff and young people in your care for the battle with the trolls? What soft skills do you impart to help prepare them for the reality of an oppressively macho work environment?