No Smoking

This is the time of year when dusty decorations are being eagerly extricated from a cupboard, and suddenly tinsel and sleigh bells take their short-lived but disproportionate place in all our lives.

It’s also the time when the season of office parties deliberately blur the line between work and leisure, with games and organised fun and the drinking that goes with it can blur judgement and dissolve inhibitions. It’s the inhibitions bit that makes me a bit uncomfortable.

When I was younger I worked somewhere where there was a senior man who was… you know… a bit ‘handsy’. The young women in the office brushed it off, and just made sure they didn’t find themselves passing on the stairs at the office party or (God forbid) sharing a taxi with him.

There were always stories about someone who’d seen something or spoken to someone, and you know, there’s no smoke without fire, right? But what could I do? He was much more senior than me and it seemed like ‘the girls’ were handling it. We even joked about it a bit at the time.

We don’t joke about it now.

Now, when I meet with people I worked with back then, we feel embarrassed – guilty even – that we didn’t speak up, challenge, DO something. 

Because we all left eventually and went our separate ways, but I’m damn sure this guy carried on doing exactly the same thing for years and years and years. God knows how many young women who added a #MeToo to their social feed a couple of years back, as a small fuck you to the man that made them feel uncomfortable and unsafe at work.

Today it would all be different. In today’s world he probably wouldn’t dare do it in the first place, but if he did then the young women involved would (I hope) feel more empowered to speak up.

And I know that I would stand up to him too – forget the seniority, you’re out of line and I’m not going to stand by and pretend the talk is just talk. Because you can get smoke without fire, but not this much smoke.

I can’t beat myself up for not doing then what I’d do now. I wasn’t the man then that I am today, and I think if I met my younger self I’d probably think he was a bit of a dickhead for various reasons that have nothing to do with this. But he didn’t know what I know.

What I can do is encourage you not to ignore that tell tale whiff of smoke in the air – in a meeting room, a lift, a conversation. Because if there is just a little smoke, then maybe you should break the glass and press the red button just in case.

Better a false alarm than someone getting burnt.

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