FS Announces New Approaches For Fighting Sexual Harassment

Anit-harssment workshop July 2017 at Albuquerque Service Center

This PBS News Hour is worth reading in its entirety.

The U.S. Forest Service is implementing what it’s calling a 30-day action plan to address harassment, sexual misconduct, and retaliation in the agency.

The changes come weeks after a PBS NewsHour investigation into these issues, especially in the agency’s firefighting ranks, along with the departure of Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke amid allegations of his own sexual misconduct.

Interim chief Vicki Christiansen announced the plan on an all-staff call last week, and in an email to staff Wednesday. Recent news reports, she said, had “focused a bright light on a problem the agency has been combating for years” and “made it painfully clear that the policies prohibiting such behaviors are not enough.”

A transcript of the call was given to the PBS NewsHour by two Forest Service employees.


Additionally, Lago announced there would be an agency-wide workplace survey to look at employee perceptions of sexual and non-sexual harassment. In January, the Forest Service released a survey of harassment in the agency, but it looked only at Region 5, or the state of California, an area whose issues were the focus of a congressional hearing in December 2016. The Forest Service has never done a national survey of the problem, as the National Park Service did after similar issues were reported in its agency in 2016.

Lago also announced the creation of a heat map tool to identify particular problem areas, an employee code of conduct called “This Is Who We Are,” and standardized harassment trainings for employees.”

I will post the transcript on this blog in another post.

A couple of points: I think the survey on sexual and non-sexual harassment is good because plenty of people feel harassed for various reasons and it needs to be explored in depth. I also think the heat map tool would be great at helping to understand patterns and causes. I’m a little surprised at the assumptions that folks are making that these approaches are not enough and won’t work, since they have not yet been tried. One commenter on the News Hour story didn’t think a heat map would be useful.

Retired Forest Service firefighter Jonel Wagoner, who joined the Forest Service in the 1980s and alleged decades of harassment based on her gender, said she was skeptical of the “soundbites and fed-speak” she heard on the call.

“More training, more promises to hold people accountable … None of that has helped to change the culture to date,” Wagoner wrote in an email. She and other longtime employees recounted years of harassment and retaliation in an interview with the NewsHour.

f I were Chief, I would get retired Employee Relations folks in a room and ask them what they think would work. For example, I wonder if centralizing HR contributed to a de-emphasis on working on tough personnel problems on districts and forests. I know when I filed a grievance, being able to go down the hall to those folks (in the RO) made a big difference. I also wonder whether there should be a more formal approach to reach out to retirees and discuss our experiences, and what worked and didn’t. But it’s ultimately up to the people working today to figure this out and make it happen.

Here’s a link to the information on the efforts they were developing last July.

7 thoughts on “FS Announces New Approaches For Fighting Sexual Harassment”

  1. Regardless of what action(s) is/are taken, it has to get better than it currently is. I watched a former high-performing young female who used to work for me get thrashed emotionally by her then-current supervisor. The response by senior leadership was appalling in their timeliness. I have never understood why that was.

  2. Having been around the block on this situation so many times in my career, and even asking other women supervisors “what would you do if…” and they tell me that they would do the same thing that has always been done (and not even recognized that they had been “brainwashed” into thinking about that as the proper way to handle sexual harassment), I am hopeful, but until line officers are held accountable (and removed or reassigned or demoted), there won’t be much happening on this front. I did work for one forest where the Forest Supervisor quickly reassigned a Forest Staff person after he learned that that person had done nothing when a woman of color in the staff officer’s chain of command was harassed. There was no “2nd chance”, no “don’t do that again”, just a swift reassignment. That sent a powerful message.

  3. Obviously, the Forest Service has — and has had — a big problem with sexual harassment. But that problem is embedded in a culture of patriarchy, of hierarchy, of near-messianic devotion to simple goals (get the cut out, get the fires out, …), and more. The organizational model was derived from European (Prussian) bureaucratic traditions, and still remains highly resistant to change. What to do? I don’t know. According to Biblical writ Moses had to wait 40 years in the wilderness for the people to be ready to embrace the responsibility of freedom, self-governance, etc. (At least as some tell the story.) Some of us have been waiting more than half that long in this battle, particularly when we broaden the “#MeToo,” “#TimesUp,” movement to “#WeToo”.

    I did a bit of searching, (combating gender bias male bureaucracy patriarchy) and found this:

    Renowned Therapist Explains The Crushing Effects Of Patriarchy On Men And Women Today, Kathy Caprino, Forbes, 01/25/2018.


    Some snips:

    … One question that hasn’t been addressed as fully as possible, in my mind, is this one: What does patriarchy – the societal model we’re under today in the U.S. – do to both men and women that could create such a clear gender divide. And what can finally bridge that chasm?

    To learn more, I caught up with renowned couple’s therapist and bestselling author Terry Real. …[W]e discuss issues around gender, power, intimacy, emotionality and vulnerability – and what he sees are the crushing effects of patriarchy for men and women. …

    Terry Real: We all live under patriarchy. That’s an old fashioned word and it was, until the current climate, that if you said the word “feminist” people would head for the door. If you said “patriarchy” people would start to snooze. But now things have become so reactionary, culturally, that people are picking up the sword again of feminism.

    We all live under patriarchy, which is a rigid dichotomy of gender roles. And we all know what the dichotomy is. Traditionally, men are supposed to be strong and feel independent, unemotional, logical and confident. Women are supposed to be expressive, nurturant, weak and dependent. One of the things I say about those traditional gender roles is they don’t make anybody happy and they don’t make for intimacy.

    I work with men and women all day long in both heterosexual relationships and same-sex relationships, and one of the things I’ve seen is that in order to lead men and women into happiness and intimacy — intimacy with others and really a good relationship inside your skin as well — we have to lead men and women out of patriarchy, because the old rules were not built for intimacy and happiness.

    The old rules were built for stability, for production and consumption. Intimacy? I don’t think so. Happiness? No. It was about “Buckle up and do your job.” But today we want intimacy. Intimacy is a good thing. I stand up for intimacy and being happy is a good thing, but the old rules are not going to get us there. We need to re-configure who we are both as men and as women, and frankly we need a new vision.

    We need some leadership as to what that looks like. What I’ve seen is that the essence of masculinity is contempt for the feminine. Misogyny and masculinity are flip sides of the same coin. What it means to be a “man” today is to NOT be a girl. Not be feminine. The contempt for the feminine is part of the patriarchal culture. …

    … Patriarchy does not exist only in men. The force of patriarchy is the water that we all swim in and we’re the fish. Women can be just as patriarchal as men by holding those same types of values and biases.

    Caprino: I see, but why would women want to turn against themselves?

    Real: I speak about the three rings and I’ve covered the first two. The first I call the “great divide,” where both men and women split themselves in half – the masculine and the feminine.

    The second is what I call the “dance of contempt.” That the two halves, masculine and feminine, are not held equally but the masculine half is exulted and the feminine is de-valued.

    The essential relationship between masculine and feminine is contempt. I know it’s ugly, but it gets uglier. The third ring I call the “core collusion.” The core collusion is that whoever inhabits the “feminine side of the equation” – whether it’s a child to a parent, or a hostage to a kidnapper – has a profound instinct to protect whoever is on the masculine side of the equation even while being hurt by that person. …

    That’s why the #MeToo movement is so revolutionary, because it is really going up against this core pillar of patriarchy, which is that you dare not speak truth to power. …

    The vision that I work with, my plumb line when I’m working with boys and girls and men and women, is wholeness. I want to undo this “halving” process. I want girls and women to be strong and sexy and feminine and confident and kick ass and inviting and all of the above.

    And I want men and boys to be strong and big-hearted and vulnerable and sensitive and confident and aware and heartfelt all at the same time. What we need are whole people. Feminism gets this concept in relation to girls and women. We’re both old enough to remember when the feminist revolution broke out, people were ringing their hands about girls and going, “Oh if they get confident en masse they’re going to lose their femininity.” But nobody worries that much about that anymore.

    The culture has been changed, but people still do worry about boys and men. If boys and men get in touch with their quote unquote “feminine side,” oh my gosh, they’re going to lose their spines and other parts of their anatomy and it’s going to be awful.

    But you know what? We can be whole. …

    Caprino:  So what can you offer as three effective steps we all can take today to allow for more wholeness, in ourselves and others, to heal this “halving” we all experience?

    Real: Here are three steps:

    Be brave, have courage, step outside of your comfort zone

    Do something new. And speak truth to power. Become intensively aware of that contempt of vulnerability in both sexes. Beware of that code to shun our vulnerability, because we humans connect through our vulnerabilities, not through invulnerability. …

    2. Get allies

    Don’t try and do this all by yourself. Make this a collective movement. Get support.

    3. Insist on wholeness

    Insist on relationality in your boys, insist on strength in your girls, and insist on wholeness in your relationship with each other. And insist on wholeness inside yourself. You can be a man and cry. You can be a woman and speak up. We can step outside the frame of patriarchy. We don’t have to be determined by it. …

    What seems true in terms of couples relationships, seem equally true in broader organizational framing. But all of it isn’t going to be easy, or quick. There was a time when I was hopeful for a smoother transition. Remember Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot’s book The End of Bureaucracy: And the rise of the intelligent organization?

    That came during a moment of hope. How many in the Forest Service read it? How many in leadership positions used it to help guide change? How many in so-called leadership positions ever did much beyond proclaim the virtues of extant bureaucratic order?

    So is the agency going to set up yet-another training program, another survey, or another listening session, and pretend that it will make a difference? Likely. We have seen it so many times before.

    My advice is, and has been for a very time, that agency leaders sit down with the best and brightest minds not only in organizational development and transformation, management, and leadership, but also in cultural transformation (cultural anthropology, sociology, psychology, …) to work up a way forward, keeping in mind the path the Pinchots suggested back in 1994:

    Moses never saw his promised land, and neither will I most likely. I could never even get the Forest Service to abandon its clingy allegiance to the FS Manual and Handbook directives, let alone to embrace the journey required of learning organizations. Both hierarchy and patriarchy will likely outlive me. But we must keep trying. So more power to #MeToo #WeToo #TimesUp …

  4. I’m not sure “intimacy” and “happiness” translates well into employment, where “The old rules were built for stability, for production and consumption” and still are. Our economic system (and government agency promotions) rewards women for “confident and kick ass,” but the economic rewards for men to be “big-hearted and vulnerable and sensitive” (and not domineering) are not as obvious. Maybe success will be where we have an equal number of harassment claims against women as against men?

  5. Agree. I stretched the parallel too far. I will take, in the short term “Maybe success will be where we have an equal number of harassment claims against women as against men?” In the longer term we need to build or reframe organizations after the Pinchots’ advice.

  6. WHAT WE DO NOT NEED, is to waste more tax payers money on a survey. I been a Forest Service employee for over 32 years and this stuff is worse now than in the 80’s and early 90’s. Lago is and was a problem in her shop, just watch the hearing of December 1, 2016. She did not even know the regulations to fire employees but let offenders retire with full benefits. What happened to her, PROMOTION! This is what’s wrong with the culture, we promote the problems and harasses or fire the victim. First correct and get rid of the upper management , hold them accountable and rebuild. Have a monitor system/council of a range of folks, not just management cronies, that what we are going to get…Look at the CRIT-CRAT of Clintons administration. Had lots of good stuff in it. Sound funny that something good came out of that administration on sexual harassment.

    • ATBM- I remember the CRITS and CRATS but was fortunate not to be involved with harassment, neither as an employee nor a supervisor. Could you tell us what about them in your opinion made them so successful? If you need more space than a comment you can submit it to me in an email as a guest post. You do not have to give your name. Thanks!


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