As the father of five daughters and the husband of a successful wife, I have been astounded by the sheer number and depth of sexual harassment and assault incidents revealed over the last few of months in a variety of workplaces, but particularly disturbing from our political leaders.
Pennsylvanians are rightfully upset by their leaders' behavior and deserve better. Whether in Hollywood, corporate America, Olympic sports, or now in government, these incidents result from a combination of abuse of power, disrespect, and selfishness not worthy of anyone in a leadership role. The volume of these incidents seems to have finally created enough attention to permit anyone who is a victim of sexual harassment or assault to come forward with much greater confidence that they will be heard, and that the allegations will be investigated.
This is a particularly personal issue for me given that my wife of over 35 years has been a pioneer in working through traditionally male-dominated environments. She attended West Point and graduated in 1982; only the third class graduating women. She went on to a career in a high-tech engineering, another male-dominated field, and worked her way up from quality control manager to the president of the company. The three oldest of my five daughters are already pursuing successful careers on their own. To think that any of them would be subjected to the type of behavior we have read so much about lately breaks my heart.
In addition to the personal pain inflicted on its victims, and the immorality of any leader harassing a subordinate, Pennsylvania's economic success will be highly dependent on talented individuals filling the leadership and ranks of our workforce. We need to accept everyone as colleagues rather than objectify, harass, or abuse them.
So how do we begin the process of eliminating the type of destructive behavior represented by those engaging in sexual harassment and assault?
Real change starts with leaders in all walks of life role-modeling the behavior they seek. No substantive change ever occurs without this. Those who engage in sexual harassment should no longer occupy positions of leadership, regardless of their occupation.
Next, we must ensure employees have "risk free" outlets to report this type of behavior. We can accomplish this by creating stronger mentoring relationships and creating environments where no one ever feels "trapped by circumstance."
Third, we must act swiftly and with purpose to investigate any allegation.
Lastly, we must deal vigorously with those who are found through due process to have behaved inappropriately.
As governor, I would adopt a zero-tolerance policy for this type of behavior in state government. Elected leaders are supposed to be role models. Anyone engaging in sexual harassment or assault forfeits their ability to lead effectively, and loses any moral stature. This is not a partisan issue; it is an issue of basic human decency,
The recent revelations about our elected leaders in Harrisburg are appalling. Even more enraging is learning that taxpayers were funding the settlements of sexual harassment claims against these elected leaders. As if confidence in our elected leaders had not fallen enough, now we confront the reality that politicians in Harrisburg used our tax money to pay off their sexual harassment claims.
Elected leaders whose immoral behavior exposes them to personal liability have no right to use our hard-earned money as their personal slush funds. We must act swiftly to stop this disgraceful practice.
We owe it to each other to work together to eradicate sexual harassment from all aspects of our society. Those who occupy positions of leadership have an additional responsibility to ensure they create environments where everyone can thrive unaffected by such immoral behavior. Without this, there is little hope in restoring even the most basic trust we have lost recently in our government institutions.