#WorkHuman: Can Harassers, Like Shaun White, Be Forgiven in #Metoo Era?


To learn, discuss and listen to question’s like this, you must join me at this year’s WorkHuman Conference.  Also, at the bottom of the post is the Dawn Magic Discount Code to use when you register…

Shaun White, America’s Olympic superhero and biggest snowboarding success-story, had quite a week. Within 24 hours he won his third gold medal, demonstrated a new grown-up humility after his win, and became the newly outed face of the creepy sexual predator.  Damn. Damn. Damn.

Not long after his victory, the media questioned him about a 2016 sexual harassment case against him which he settled.  For many of us, this was the first we heard of it and a few of my Facebook friends responded in an interesting way. As opposed to immediately vilifying White, they defended him.  One even decided to boycott NBC for not giving Shaun White even a day to celebrate a spectacular Olympic victory.  For context, mitigating factors in favor of White included: a) the case was settled years ago, b) records show White believed the interactions were consensual, and c) the victim had stated “she believed this matter was in the past” .

This begs to question, when is it ok to forgive accusers or proven perpetrators of their misconduct? Is it OK? And by doing so are we stifling momentum of the #meetoo movement?  

How do we as reconcile this in the workplace?  And how do leaders create a forgiving work environment that allows for redemption. I mean, it is easy to ban Louis CK, Kevin Spacey and Steve Wynn from our consciousness. But it is a much more complicated issue when the accused are people we know.  People we’ve worked with for years or leaders we have trusted.

For the record, I am not talking about violent criminals or rapists. Also, my hope is that people in the workplace proven guilty of harassment will be terminated immediately.  I’m talking about accused harassers who thought their gestures were consensual. Workers who immediate changed their behaviors once addressed. Workers who, although were creepy or pushed boundaries, were humble, contrite and never harassed again.  Some may put Shaun White in this category (see my thoughts below).

On a philosophical level, when is the time and place to forgive and allow the accused the benefit of honest redemption?


These questions should be addressed on April 2-5th, at the 2018 WorkHuman Conference.  The conference, sponsored by Globoforce, is attempting something revolutionary in the HR conference space.  This year they are hosting a historic #Metoo panel including Ronan Farrow, Ashley Judd, Tamara Banks and facilitated by Adam Grant.  If you want to witness a conference “Leaning In”, hard, on a controversial topic, this is a must attend.

HR has always been an advocate of harassment free environments, but until recently have felt shackled by poor leadership, lack of courageous practices, and in many environments an unwillingness to open doors that could lead to legal exposure.

We all know, thank God, that #timesup for this.  So what is the next step? What is the “end-in-mind” for the #metoo revolution? Smarter people than me can answer this.

Those people will be on the #metoo panel.

Empathy Is Key In Promoting A “Redemptive” Environment

There is one significant place HR can focus to create a work environment that can, at some point, allow for redemption.  That is to practice empathy.

A great article from Psychology Today, Empathy Is The Key To Conflict Resolution Or Management, gives a few areas to focus on. HR should lean on these practices to facilitate important discussions on harassment.

  • 90% of conflict is due to misunderstanding. Misunderstanding is simply a failure to understand. We must create environments where people listen to understand.
  • Distinguish dialogues from debates. Dialogues require listening.  Debates have a winner-loser. HR should learn skills to stop debates and direct dialogues. A debate between an accused and accuser would be devastating.
  • Distinquish between “acceptance” and “tolerance”.   The article states it best.  For instance, “Tolerating blacks is still racism…Accepting us means respecting us, valuing us and loving us for who we are.”  Some things simply cannot be tolerated.  But in the case that a harrassing behavior has been stoped, for there to be redemption, acceptance of what has happened, consequenses, and impact has to be achieved.

Back to Shaun White.  

He messed up.  He did not practice empathy when questioned by reporters after his olympic win.  He took a defensive stance, called the reports gossip (when they clearly were not), and deflected ownership.  

His accuser, although believing he wasn’t predatory anymore, was furious at his public dismissal. She should have been. There was no empathy shown nor demonstrated by White, who will forever need to own his bad behavior to be accepted or be redeemed. He apologized later, and I think (hope, pray) he was sincere.  Time will tell.  

Until then, I encourage all HR pros and leaders to join me at the Workhuman conference.  A place where open dialogue on an important topic may show us more ways to understand the #metoo movement with understanding and empathy.

Dawn’s Magic Discount Code! 

When you register for the workhuman conference, use code WH18INF – DBU.  You’ll get a nice price reduction of your registration fee! 

See you there! 



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Dawn Hrdlica-Burke

VP People & Culture/ Talent Consulting at Kinetix. Advisor. Speaker. Writer.

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