Sexual harassment, professionalism and lessons (not) learned

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ethics cartoonI wasn’t at all sure what I could add to the cacophony of outrage instigated by the puerile remarks of a bunch of hooligans (highly paid hooligans it seems) broadcast by a Toronto television station after one of their female reporters decided she had had enough with the sexist and sexual harassment in her workplace (anywhere she is reporting from). She turned the cameras on the young men laughing at the harassment, asked them why they were laughing, let them show themselves to be even more infantile than we had thought, then broadcast the whole piece for the world to see.  One of the young men, later identified as a Hydro One employee was summarily fired from his six-figure salary job, a decision by his employee showing at the very least concern for their organization’s image if nothing else.  [See here for the Global New story and the video] So they did the right thing in the end, but where does that leave me in the professionalism/ethics discussion?

Well, I had the great good fortune to be lunching at a lovely restaurant on The Esplanade in downtown Toronto today when we were joined at the neighbouring table by a group of six suit-clad young men who looked to be in their late twenties to mid-thirties, all, as it turned out from a bit of clever eavesdropping, to be the young breed of Bay Street warriors all.   After listening to them for a few minutes my husband who had his back to them asked me if they were drunk. No, I said, they seemed sober, with only two of them even having a drink or a beer.  “They seem to be intoxicated by their own presence,” he said.  As I thought this over and listened in further, I knew that he had hit the nail on the head.

The young men’s conversation moved from stocks and commodities to the news story of the City TV journalist and the punishment meted out against the young man who was just about their age.  It seemed that one of them was either under a rock for the past few days or out of the country since one of the group had to fill him in on the details.  A discussion ensued.  This, I thought to myself, should be interesting.

you are firedThey batted around what had happened and then discussed the termination. None of them seemed too upset about the punishment, but here’s the kicker.  It wasn’t because they thought that behaviour was out of line, it was this.  “How stupid was that guy for getting caught on camera.”  There you have it.  The condemnation was not for the harassing behaviour, the fundamental wrongness of making this or any woman feel like a “piece of meat” as the journalist said in a later interview. No, the reason the guy was wrong was for letting himself be caught on camera.

I had wondered if this situation might actually alter other young men’s behaviours, and that they might begin to behave in an ethical way toward women because it’s the right thing to do.  Not so much.  It sounded to me like it would continue – if they didn’t’ get caught.

They and the young men caught on camera spewing and/or supporting the sexist expletives were indeed intoxicated by their own presence. Nice guys to have working on Bay Street. Not.

Creativity in Public Relations…& beyond

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[I wrote a version of this post which was originally published in the Mount Saint Vincent PR students’ online publication Symmetry.]

Colorful CrayonsYou’d probably be surprised to know that Albert Einstein didn’t necessarily value knowledge above everything else.  He is often quoted as having opined:

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.  Imagination is more important than knowledge.   Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world.”

If Einstein valued imagination, which is the precursor to creativity, then why is it that when people in public relations or other areas of public communication think of creativity, they immediately think of the traditional “creatives” who are part of their team?  They think of the designers and other visual artists.   A healthy respect for the creative aspects of our strategic work can only result in more successful communication campaigns.

In the only book on Creativity in Public Relations, author Andy Green points out that public relations professionals today are offered millions of dollars world-wide to develop and implement creative public relations strategies – innovative and fresh solutions to communications challenges.[1]  However, there is almost no literature on the topic of creativity in public relations (except for Green’s book).

In addition, it appears that there is growing understanding  that “creativity” is one of the key behavioral competencies expected of PR practitioners by the industry. Planning, writing and evaluation are – not surprisingly – usually the top technical competencies expected.  However, I hear from employers more and more frequently that they are looking for other behavioral competencies in their new hires.  They’re looking for well-developed interpersonal communication skills, a bit of strategic business sense and – you guessed it – creativity.

Creativity, then, seems to be an important key to success in the professional practice of PR.  The question is: how do you cultivate it?

About eight years ago, I had a creative brain wave (actually, I have these brain waves almost every day, but I don’t necessarily follow up on all of them).  That brain wave resulted in me developing a senior seminar for BPR students on the topic of “Creativity in Public Relations.”  Through a series of eight interconnected workshops, we explored our own creativity and then learned to mine this part of ourselves to come up with new and innovative ways of approaching traditional public relations challenges.  Creative approaches are for strategy development just as much as they are for the visual design of an organization’s online presence for example.

I have to say that this was one of the most fulfilling courses I had ever taught since I came to MSVU in 1989 to teach writing.  I had the opportunity to share with students some of the ideas from writers whose work I had cherished all throughout my own career as a writer, professional communication strategist and university professor.  What I found out was that my students are a very creative bunch.  When asked what they’d be doing if they weren’t studying PR and could do anything they wanted to do, apart from travelling the world (which in itself contributes to creativity), the majority of the students suggested that they’d be actors, singers, dancers, painters, writers.  You get the picture.

I know that there is a tremendous vein of creativity that runs through the PR and communication students.  I only hope that this doesn’t get lost in the educational and work world.

Maybe it’s time to connect the dots between your personal creativity (or the need to develop it further) with the challenges and activities that are part of a career in communications.

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been more than 20 years since writer Julia Cameron published a book called The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity which became the seminal work for a renaissance of interest in developing creativity.  She introduces her work this way: “No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too silly to work on your creativity.” [2]

Over the years I’ve developed my own rules of thumb for creativity.

Here are my eight key characteristics of creative public relations (and other) professionals…

  1. Creative people believe in their personal creativity.
  2. Creative people are prepared to create at any time.
  3. Creative people pay attention.
  4. Creative people have broad interests.
  5. Creative people make time and space in their lives for creativity.
  6. Creative people remember what it was like to be a kid.
  7. Creative people are tenacious.
  8. Creative people are willing to take risks.

And, make no mistake…creativity can be learned.


[1] Green, Andy.  2001.  Creativity in public relations. 2nd ed.  London: Kogan Page.

[2] Cameron, Julia.  1992.  The artist’s way: A spiritual path to higher creativity.  New York: Tarcher, p. xxii.