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Perspective: Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo — a sexual harassment train on a collision course

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown on a TV monitor.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown on a TV monitor as he discusses the East Side Access, a train tunnel that will connect rail yards in Queens with Grand Central Terminal, Thursday, May 27, 2021 in New York.
Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

Many of us resisted watching what appeared to be a slow train wreck of New York’s former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. One by one, passengers saw the train headed for a wall and they decided to pull the emergency brake or take their fate into their own hands and just leap off. A few reluctant riders peered through windows wondering when and if help would come. Some of us watched from the platform. Some of us watched from our devices. The dynamics were frenetic, sometimes frantic and fraught with anxiety, much like late-running passengers panting toward tracks at Grand Central Station.

Contrasting the exquisite interior landscape of Grand Central Station against the dramatic unfoldings in the governor’s office might be somewhat offensive to one of the finest expressions of architecture in New York. Nonetheless, with sparks popping from the tracks and the engineer refusing to leave the cab, a train without passengers but filled with baggage collided with a movement.

Cuomo tried to remain in the train’s engineer’s cab, but quickly realized three things:

1. He was no longer driving the train.

2. He had experienced a leadership derailment.

3. He was on an unwinnable collision course into a wall of truth brought by courageous women.

And when he hit, there was political and social debris strewn about for gapers to consume and trample. There were also life and leadership lessons from that we can learn.

1. When a woman brings forth an allegation, believe her.

2. The voices of women have become amplified and insuppressible, due in part to the shared experience of harassment, hurt and humiliation.

3. The perceived power of a political office can quickly become volatile, unstable and impotent.

4. Do not dismiss, diminish or discount the voice of a young woman because doing so could provoke the ire and response from her empathetic and influential sisters.

5. Women can play the long game, with long-term plans and long-term goals that will benefit not just them, but women and humanity in the future.

6. The mistreatment, abuse, assault and harassment of women cannot be nuanced by wordsmithing and spin doctors. Women know what it looks and feels like.

7. Attend annual sexual harassment training and apply it.

After a very long list of fallen leaders accused of harassment, some of them still have not learned that they will be held accountable. Some organizations are still challenged with transparency and urgency as it relates to investigations and responsiveness. Some organizations grapple with profit and ratings over disclosure, due diligence and the duty to report.

Sexual harassment can be subtle or overt. It can happen in person and on virtual platforms and devices. It can happen in the workplace or at workplace-sponsored events. It can happen when people are intoxicated or sober. The perpetrators can be men or women. The victims can be male or female. It is often times associated with the powerful against the powerless.

The impact of sexual harassment can be demoralizing and immobilizing to workplace victims and survivors. With the power, velocity and force of social media, allegations of sexual harassment can significantly tarnish an organization’s brand, which could translate into decreased revenue and consumer confidence.

Employers and leaders must be accountable, exercise self-accountability and be held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. Ignoring, soft-shoeing, deflecting, blaming, denying, minimizing and nuancing should no longer be an acceptable response.

Companies must be committed to social responsibility, transparency and anti-harassment in a demonstrable way, not because it is good for their brand, reputation, profits or ratings, but because it is good for the welfare of the accuser, the workplace and those who do not heed warnings.

The voices of women have become louder. The presence of women will become more powerful. The movement of women has become unstoppable and undeniable. This movement, which is not going away, should give fair warning to harassers and transgressors that they will be held accountable.

Theresa A. Dear is a national board member of the NAACP and a Deseret News contributor.