Anti-harassment panel urges rules for drinking, dating — and more women in power

SHARE Anti-harassment panel urges rules for drinking, dating — and more women in power

Thousands rally in Grant Park before the second annual Women’s March, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. File Photo.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Don’t drink too much.

Don’t ask a fellow campaign worker out a second time if you’ve already been rejected once.

Those are some of the common sense recommendations a trio of Democratic women is offering to political parties and campaigns to try to combat sexual harassment and promote women in state politics.

But there are also larger, overarching recommendations from the Anti-Harassment, Equality & Access Panel, such as tying funding and resources to campaigns adopting policies and participating in anti-harassment training, creating an independent body to receive complaints of sexual-harassment.

They also are pushing to increase the number of female state legislators, as well as state, county and municipal officeholders in Illinois, to at least 50 percent of the total.

“The issue of sexual harassment, in and of itself, is never going to get better until women are in the positions of power to actually make the rules,” state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, one of three panel members, said.

Mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2017. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The intent of the report, created by Mendoza, state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Champaign, and state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, is to encourage state parties and campaigns to adopt clear and comprehensive policies regarding anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, anti-bullying and anti-retaliation.

“This is really a blueprint so that we can show the parties how they can change the culture and the behavior because frankly, they haven’t really done a great job,” Bush said. “And they have to take the responsibility. And I think this is a blueprint for them to do that. There will be pressure for them to do that. … The parties absolutely have to deal with this culture of harassment, this culture that has kept women from running for office and frankly, women are not going to sit back any longer and tolerate it. Either the pressure comes from outside or the parties need to move forward.”

State Sen. Melinda Bush.

State Sen. Melinda Bush. File Photo. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times file

But there are some very literal recommendations which came straight from information the three gleaned from six listening sessions across the state, including trying to regulate dating relationships within campaigns and the recommendation to “monitor alcohol use” within campaigns.

The report concludes “over-regulation” may “discourage the friendship and camaraderie that is a hallmark of a well-run campaign and may be impossible to enforce.” But it still recommends a “one ask rule” — campaign workers and volunteers are allowed to ask co-workers out one time but cannot do so again if the invitation is declined. The report also discourages dating relationships between superiors and anyone who directly reports to them.

The report includes a recommendation that campaigns “should monitor alcohol use” — “prohibiting consumption to the extent it interferes with a campaign worker’s ability to perform his or her job or exercise proper judgment.”

“Regardless of the exact policy language, alcohol use should never be used to justify harassing and inappropriate behavior or used to discredit a victim,” the report says.

The report recommends state parties come up with policies that are annually updated. They also want anti-harassment training and workplace culture training to all those involved in campaigns on a quarterly basis.

Regarding the reporting of sexual harassment, the panel recommends that campaigns provide workers with multiple discrete ways to report harassment. And they recommend that an “independent body” be created to conduct investigations that are “fair and thorough.” The report also recommends that state parties have an independent entity investigate complaints and seeks to prohibit campaigns from using non-disclosure agreements in any employment agreements.

The three women heading the panel are all Democrats, but they sent the report to Democratic, Green, Libertarian and Republican party leaders at the state and county level, as well as to statewide and state-level campaigns registered with the State Board of Elections.

One of their key recommendations includes electing more women in Illinois and promoting more into leadership positions. There are currently 46 women in 118-member Illinois House of Representatives, and 16 women in the 59-member Illinois Senate.

That means women hold 39 percent of the House seats and 27 percent of the Senate seats.

State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Champaign. From Facebook.

State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Champaign. From Facebook.

But the panel’s report implores leaders to commit to a goal of increasing the number of female lawmakers to reach equality.

“We are having to operate within a system where the rules were created by the men, with not a single thought in place as to how this would impact women,” Mendoza said. “And so we are totally working in a male, good ol’ boy network … and we are playing by rules that were established many years ago and that were very kind of misogynistic environment. That’s kind of the deal that a lot of women speak about. … The fact that they’re women is a barrier to entry give that the resources that are invested in male candidates versus female candidates are starkly different. And we want that to change.”

“To achieve this goal, we need buy-in from all the state political parties, and we need to build the pipeline of qualified female candidates by effectively recruiting them, training them, and supporting them when they run,” the report said.

The report also recommends that state parties create a manager-level staff person to act as a director of diversity and that each political party establish an advisory board to implement the policies they’re recommending.

The Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access Panel was formed in February by House Speaker Mike Madigan as the Southwest Side Democrat tried to do damage control after firing Kevin Quinn. When he formed the panel, Madigan admitted he hadn’t done enough to combat sexual harassment. Two days later, he banned a second operative from his political organization because of allegations of bullying and harassment.

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