youre-goin-to-loseI still remember the day in 1978 when every male staff member was ordered to the auditorium at the US Naval Nuclear Power School in Orlando, FL.  None knew why but the order was specific – every male staff member NOW.

After we all assembled, we came to attention when CAPT Strum, our commanding officer, entered and told us to sit.  He then proceeded to tell us that the rumors were true – women were going to be admitted to the Nuclear Power Program and they would be arriving in a few weeks.  He then told us what the expected behavior of staff members was and that there would be no exceptions.  He detailed actions that would protect everyone from any charges of inappropriate behavior, particularly sexual harassment.  Before he opened for questions he gave this final piece of advice as a warning: “She may not win but you’re going to lose.”

The message was clear – keep it proper and above board and be seen as keeping it proper and above board.

As a society, we are finally having a discussion of sexual harassment thanks to Donald Trump.  The entrance of women into the Naval Nuclear Program and later the Tailhook scandal forced the Navy to face the issue long before the general society.  Unfortunately, as a society, we are slow learners.  Sexual harassment, and its more violent sibling, sexual assault are much too prevalent.  It’s as if we haven’t progressed from the days of the Vikings and barbarians were men could do whatever they wanted as long as they were the strongest, most violent, or ablest warriors – in which case you earned the right to do whatever you wanted.

But, if anything we’ve learned from the Clinton scandals down to the latest tapes of Trump, it’s that it all comes out eventually and there’s a price to be paid.  I mean, really, in a year when the Democrats select a candidate that is begging to lose with some of the greatest negatives in history, the Republicans could have selected a semi-warm side of beef and they’d be winning.

Because while sexual harassment (and assault) occur, people are not going to publicly say it’s OK.  The societal norms won’t allow it.  If the Navy, where “stewed, screwed and tattooed” was an accepted definition of a great liberty weekend, won’t accept sexual harassment, then that should be a sign to any competent adult that there are behaviors that will not be accepted.

Now it should go without saying that harassment or assault in any form is unacceptable because women are people – but I’m not talking to women here – I’m speaking to those men that still have Neanderthal mentalities to give them the same warning I received back as a junior officer.

You might be able to keep it hidden; you might be able to intimidate for a while; you might be able to shame into silence for a while, but eventually, someone will talk.  And once one talks, others will talk.  Memos, letters, emails and videos will surface.  And while you might be able to convince some that the claims are false, many will believe.

That’s when “You’re goin’ to lose.

If you are a leader, I would encourage you to let everyone know explicitly what the expected standards of behavior are.  Use CAPT Sturm or view the video by Australian LTG Morrison about their sex scandal as examples of real leaders dealing with this pervasive problem.  Because real leaders really solve problems, they don’t just push them out of sight.  Otherwise, “You’re going to lose.”

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.