Here is another in a series of interviews with Michael Rains by Evergreen Magazine.
A couple of my thoughts..if 70% of the women in the FS have been harassed at some point, I think that would not be as meaningful for working on change as “how many women have been harassed in the last 10 years?”. For women my age, some of whom are not retired, we started in a Forest Service in which smoking was allowed in the office, we may have been the first women professionals on a unit, and so on. Those were different times for sure. I’d zero in in the last ten years and figure out what was going on. Unlike Michael, I also think it needs to be joint Int/Ag. If I were to ask Michael he would probably say “interagency can be an “out” for taking responsibility as an agency.” While I agree with that, if the data suggest that Fire is the organization with the greatest probability of harassment, and Fire is managed as an interagency effort.. well.. IMHO, even if a joint approach leads to specific FS suggestions and problems compared to the other agencies, then those would be the responsibility of the FS to investigate and fix.
Here’s his idea for an independent investigator:
RAINS: Were I Chief, I would immediately call for a third-party, Independent Diagnostic and Evaluation (IDE) regarding all aspects of discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation at all levels of the Forest Service. The key is “independent, third-party.” The IDE will include key recommendations for immediate and lasting change to ensure the Forest Service becomes a more effective and contemporary public service agency, now and ahead. The IDE shall include a review and evaluation of the entire executive-level leadership of the Forest Service. An IDE Lead Evaluator, not from the Forest Service, will be named and approved by the Secretary of Agriculture.
EVERGREEN: Like separating the business of church from state.
RAINS: In a manner of speaking, yes. A suitable IDE could identify the need for what I have often called “Chief Worrier.” Someone, not from the Forest Service who possesses the skill and sanction to create lasting change, so the phrase, “zero tolerance in all aspects of discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation becomes a dominating core value in the Forest Service.” This is the chief responsibility of the Ambassador for Inclusion.
Here’s some of his ideas on culture:
EVEERGREEN: Might this mess somehow be related to the fact that the Forest Service has been a “man’s” organization for most of its history?
RAINS: Maybe. Recently, an associate and I were talking about this very thing and the discussion between us went, in part, like this:
“From the outset in 1905, the Forest Service has been a “macho” organization. And let’s face it. We can often be real jerks. Assertiveness inside the agency and with the public served was always rewarded. They wanted strength of character, ability to deal assertively with any situation, and do it alone if necessary. One was expected to hit the ground running. And, if you want to make it around here, you will do whatever it takes.”
I think that this idea is really worth talking about. I started in NFS in timber in 1979, and also worked in Programs and Legislation, R&D, and then back to NFS. I found quite the opposite, that assertiveness by me and some other women were sometimes taken as quite reprehensible. When I worked in Region 2 I would definitely say that assertiveness was not as valued among our line officers as ability to work with the public.
Looking back, it did seem to be a cultural norm that it was best to work things out yourself with individuals with jerky behavior. And that value might, indeed, lead to a lack of reporting of harassment. Anyway, it would be interesting to hear a variety of perspectives on what Michael said here. It might help to give the timeframe and general location of your experiences.