Power Pinch The history of sexual harassment training videos, and the surprising insight it gives us into the current wave of sexual harassment cases.
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Power Pinch

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Power Pinch

Power Pinch

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I'm Cardiff Garcia.


And I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. This is THE INDICATOR from Planet Money.

GARCIA: A show about work, business and the economy.

VANEK SMITH: Planet Money started during the financial crisis, and we've always taken on these big projects. We bought a toxic asset. We made a T-shirt. We are sending a satellite into space. We love this stuff, but it means we can't always keep up with the news as much as we'd like. So we're starting a new show - about three days a week, five minutes per episode. It's THE INDICATOR, Planet Money's quick take on a number or a term or a story in the news.


VANEK SMITH: Today's indicator is 37. Thirty-seven years ago, the federal government released its first guidelines on sexual harassment. It was 1980, and for the first time, the government had declared sexual harassment in the workplace to be a form of discrimination illegal under the Civil Rights Act. And the sexual harassment HR training video was born.


KEN HOWARD: Good ol' sex. What's wrong with that, huh - everything, as a matter of fact, when it's unwelcome and when it occurs at work.

VANEK SMITH: This is from a movie called "Power Pinch," one of the very first harassment training videos. It is narrated by a man sitting in a bar. Today on THE INDICATOR - the history of sexual harassment videos and the surprising insight it gives us into the Harvey Weinstein case and all of the stories that have come out since.


HOWARD: And yet this thing called sexual harassment is taken about as seriously as a dirty joke. I'm Ken Howard, and you're about to find out why it's anything but a joke. It's also not legal.


VANEK SMITH: Liz Tippett is an employment lawyer. When she was starting her first job at a law firm in California, she sat through her very first harassment training. She did not love it.

LIZ TIPPETT: This is terrible.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).

TIPPETT: And I just thought, why are we doing this? Why is everybody offering this same thing that is just painful to sit through? Can't we do it better?

VANEK SMITH: Liz thought these videos are incredibly important, and the fact they're so bad is a serious problem. So when she joined the faculty at the University of Oregon Law School, she decided to study harassment training and see what it could tell us about who we are in the workplace.

TIPPETT: It was July, and I'm sitting in a dark classroom, watching a VHS video over and over in order to transcribe the content.

VANEK SMITH: So how many videos did you watch in all?

TIPPETT: Seventy-four.

VANEK SMITH: Seventy-four.

TIPPETT: Seventy-four - it was purgatory.

VANEK SMITH: The early videos are very basic. There is zero subtlety. They featured skits that laid out, like, troglodyte-level harassment.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Mr. Kendall (ph), I've told you before. I don't feel comfortable socializing with clients.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Don't worry about it, Ann (ph).

VANEK SMITH: In this video, a young receptionist is trying to tell her very shady older boss why she is not comfortable joining him and a client for drinks.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) This is a very important client. You know, that deal that we just signed could pay your salary for the next couple of years. I could use a little cooperation here. Do I make myself clear?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Mr. Kendall, I'm not trying to be difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Now, I'll pick you up at about 6:30. Wear something nice.

VANEK SMITH: The guy is basically saying, show my client a good time, or you're fired. It is almost laughable. It's so obviously wrong. But that was the point of the old videos - to show people what sexual harassment was and to make the point that this is not OK. But that was decades ago. Times have changed. More women have entered the workforce. And Liz says harassment training evolved. Here's a recent video. We got it off of YouTube. It just two guys who work at a hospital, and they're looking at a female coworker's social media posts.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Go to her photos. See there, that one...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Oh...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) ...From when she was in school.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Oh, man, is that Samantha (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) I've never seen her like that.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) She must have been completely wasted.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, laughter). Oh, man, I'll send a link to Doug (ph). The guys upstairs need to see this (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Oh, yeah.

VANEK SMITH: This is super creepy, but it is unclear to me if what they're doing is actually illegal. Even Liz says she can't quite tell. And this is what today's sexual harassment training is all about. Over the last 37 years, the focus has moved from, like, caveman-style quid pro quo to stuff this kind of borderline and shady, basically helping people in the modern workplace understand the sometimes subtle line between what is creepy and what is illegal.

And then the Harvey Weinstein news broke. There was nothing subtle about it. And for weeks now, women have been coming forward at company after company with stories of physical assault and quid pro quo. Here at NPR, there were sexual harassment allegations against the head of our newsroom and a senior editor, and they were both forced out. And maybe I should not have been surprised at how widespread and terrible workplace harassment was. But I was really shocked, and so was Liz Tippett.

TIPPETT: I kind of couldn't believe it. I mean, I do believe it.


TIPPETT: But I couldn't believe it was so horrible and so blatant. It just felt really familiar. I mean, it looked like the videos from, like, the 1980s, the 1990s.

VANEK SMITH: And Liz says that's when she realized that maybe those videos with all of their ridiculous music and the evil, leering men - maybe those videos got something right that the new, subtler videos were missing.

TIPPETT: Harassment is about power and the abuse of power. And that has really faded away from current trainings.

VANEK SMITH: Liz says the current videos reflect where we all thought we were as a society. We thought we'd mostly evolved beyond the sort of obvious forms of caveman-style sexual harassment. But Weinstein and everything that's come to light since shows us that in some fundamental ways, we are still in the cave.

Liz says better workplace training could help, training that shows the route of harassment is this raw power game, a way for a man to tell a woman the workplace is my domain; you don't belong here. And if you want to hang around, it's on my terms, and there is a price. But to really solve the problem, says Liz, we just need more women in powerful positions.

TIPPETT: Put them in places of power that makes it less likely that someone like Weinstein can abuse the people below him for so long and with so little accountability.

VANEK SMITH: Do you think that'll change now?

TIPPETT: I hope so.

VANEK SMITH: That was a long pause.

TIPPETT: (Laughter).

VANEK SMITH: We'd love to hear what you think of the show. Or if you have any ideas for an indicator, send us an email - indicator@npr.org.


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