Learning from Governor Cuomo’s Resignation: Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Is Essential
On August 10, 2021, in the wake of a New York Attorney General’s report that found that he sexually harassed 11 women, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation, after previously trying to weather the growing scandal. While he reiterated multiple times in his statement that he took full responsibility for his actions and that he believed the women’s accounts of their experiences, Cuomo also defended his own actions as being harmless in intent, the product of lifetime habits that were once considered acceptable.
This kind of case is exactly why sexual harassment prevention training is essential. When Cuomo noted that there were “generational and cultural shifts” that he “didn’t fully appreciate,” he could have been any older executive whose understanding of proper workplace behavior hasn’t made it into the #MeToo era. To prevent these problems in the first place, effective training is a must.
The Gap Between Intent and Effect
In issuing his apology and resignation, Governor Cuomo cited instances of his behavior that were received as offensive or harassing, regardless of how he meant them. Some examples:
- “I thought a hug and putting my arm around a staff person while taking a picture was friendly, but she found it to be too forward.”
- “I have slipped and called people honey, sweetheart and darling. I meant it to be endearing, but women found it dated and offensive.”
- “I said on national TV to a doctor wearing PPE and giving me a Covid nasal swab, ‘You make that gown look good.’ I was joking, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t have said it on national TV. But she found it disrespectful.”
If you’re cringing reading those quotes, you should. These are fairly obvious examples of behavior that crosses the line in a professional setting.
Cuomo’s justification for his actions, though, is what really highlights the importance of not leaving the definition of proper workplace behavior up to an individual’s personal judgment alone. Among his explanations:
- “I do hug and kiss people casually, women and men. I have done it all my life. It’s who I’ve been since I can remember.”
- “When I walk past [troopers on my detail], I often will give them a grip of the arm, a pat on face, a touch on the stomach, a slap on the back. It’s my way of saying, ‘I see you. I appreciate you, and I thank you.’ I’m not comfortable just walking past and ignoring them.”
While this might have seemed friendly to him, the women on the receiving end found it overly familiar and demeaning. What’s acceptable has changed, and cluelessness is not a reasonable defense. Regardless of his intent, Cuomo created an uncomfortable workplace environment for many of the women around him, and his claim that he meant no harm by it doesn’t change that. Realistically, women might never have been as comfortable with his actions as he thought they were, even when they didn’t feel empowered to speak up.
Stopping Problems Before They Start
For employers serious about maintaining a positive workplace environment for everyone, a bare-bones PowerPoint training isn’t going to cut it. Bridge Safety Consultants’ interactive sexual harassment prevention training uses real actors, real teaching, and engaging content to connect with your employees and ensure they understand how to positively interact with their colleagues without fear of misunderstanding. We use humor to inform without lecturing so our trainings are never boring.
We offer a variety of sexual harassment prevention training options, from in-person workshops to on-demand online training, all designed to meet California’s stringent sexual harassment training requirements. Our courses are available in both English and Spanish, making it easy to keep your entire workforce in compliance. We have cost-effective solutions that make it possible for every employer to deliver training that’s truly effective.
When you create an atmosphere of respect in your business, you’re not just protecting yourself from potential legal liability—you improve productivity and teamwork. To find out more about how Bridge Safety Consultants can help you create a safe, successful work environment, contact us here today.