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Looking for Leadership

Many workplaces are doing the hard work of looking at the way employees are treated to ensure everyone can work free from harassment. Women are standing up for the basic right to do their jobs without being singled out or made to feel uncomfortable simply because they are women.

And yet recent days have brought news of the country’s most important employer, the federal government, falling short in doing the same thing. The federal chief of defence staff, General Jonathan Vance, recently stepped down over allegations of an improper relationship with a female subordinate. His successor, Admiral Art McDonald, left the same job just weeks later due to an investigation into his behaviour toward a female junior officer.

In case anyone thought these were isolated incidents that attacked men for actions that used to be considered okay, the resignation of Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor makes it clear it’s a longstanding problem that no one seems to want to take seriously. In a letter she posted on Facebook, the distinguished combat veteran said “I am sickened by ongoing investigations of sexual misconduct among our key leaders. Unfortunately, I am not surprised. Throughout my career, I have observed insidious and inappropriate use of power for sexual exploitation.”

Imagine being a respected role model in the military who has seen decades of harassment aimed at other women, but has not seen genuine action to eradicate it. Imagine someone who devotes so much of her life to serving her country enduring such treatment with no hope of the harasser ever being dealt with.

And then there’s the Canadian Senate, which recently introduced a harassment policy that some women senators called “a gift” to potential harassers. The policy requires anyone involved in a complaint to sign a non-disclosure agreement, a document that prevents victims from later discussing what happened to them.

We’ve said it before here and we’ll keep saying it again as long as it’s necessary: Everybody deserves safety, fairness and equal treatment at work. Here’s hoping these federal agencies will take a hard look at their own behaviour and live up to their responsibility to be role models for other employers of all kinds.

By Nancy Payne