Last week Tavis Smiley kicked off a 5-city national tour at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center to discuss how to create safe and healthy workplaces, where women and men can engage each other with respect and without fear of reprisal. The conversation was designed to create open discussions on what constitutes acceptable office protocol and how we go about balancing power to the level of equality.
Smiley shared with a small group of reports before the conversation started, “I have questions about how perhaps this could have been avoided, what I might do differently in the future, where are the lines, do I need to revisit my own employee hand book? How do you protect yourself from things you don’t see coming?”
Smiley was accused late last year of sexual misconduct. He has adamantly defended his reputation after allegations surfaced of him having multiple sexual relationships with his employees, some of whom said they feared for their jobs if they did not comply. He was also accused of creating a hostile work environment. Due to the allegations, PBS indefinitely suspended distribution of “Tavis Smiley,” the half-hour talk show that had aired on the network since 2004.
The conversation also addressed the recent #Metoo and #timesup campaigns which Smiley fully supports but he shared this concern, “Hollywood so often acts as if it’s going to do something about a particular issue. How many times has Hollywood said they’re going to do something about race? A Few years ago, it was ‘Oscars So White’, next year you get a couple Negros nominated and you’re back to where you were.” He continued, “I fear a year from now there’s going to be a huge story about how not much has changed. I hope I’m wrong about that but at the end of the day I’m not holding my breath that something magical is going to happen inside of Hollywood even though right now it’s the topic du jour.”
The panel included a thought provoking and sometimes at odds panel which included professor Melina Abdullah, VP of Professional Development (PIHRA) Darlene Cohen, employment attorney John Rubiner and psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman. Some of the conversation included when is it appropriate to give compliments, dress codes, the role of human resources, the need for a cultural shift and the need for continued conversations.
“It starts with listening, women have a right to be heard and a right to be believed and everything starts with a conversation. That’s why for me this tour is important – to give everyday people a chance to express themselves”, Smiley stated.
The 5-city tour included visits to Dillard University in New Orleans, George Washington University in Washington, D.C., The Faith Community of Saint Sabina in Chicago and Witherspoon Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis.