Michelle Blakely (MB): It is an honor to speak with Carol Semrad today, owner of C. Semrad and Associates, a human resources consulting firm with over 20 years of experience, and an incredible track record in advising and building their client’s businesses, with effective human resource planning, leadership development, and coaching. She was recently interviewed on WTTW Chicago Tonight on why sexual harassment occurs in the workplace. We are very fortunate to have her with us today to offer some insight and guidance for fitness professionals navigating this challenging issue, not only in our industry but many others. I’m so grateful to have you share with us for our See Jake and Jane Train listeners some of your, you know, sage advice. If you don’t mind, I’m just going to jump right in with our first question. What difference can a human resource consultant make in a small business or to an independent practitioner?
Carol Semrad (CS): Well first of all, thank you Michelle for asking me to join you today. I really appreciate it.
MB: You’re welcome.
CS: Thank you. When you’re a small business, or when you’re independent, I think it’s really important to have some policies around how you want to run your business, even if you’re an independent consultant, so that you know what your own boundaries and guidelines are. Really, an independent HR people can help to bring some best practices to you, and can help to train you, and if you have a team, the folks on your team, and really be there as a trusted advisor in case issues arise, or if there’s questions about situations. Sometimes things just happen that people aren’t sure, is this something I should be concerned about or not? Having a consultant that you can refer those questions to can be very helpful.
MB: That’s actually a brilliant suggestion. The advice I give in our courses is to consider your accountant and your bookkeeper and your attorney all as trusted advisors and consultants and members of your team. This is a really important addition, and consideration, I think, for our followers. I really appreciate you bringing that up and putting it on the radar. I think that’s a brilliant idea. Moving on just a little bit, given that the majority of See Jack and Jane Train’s clients are small business owners and independent practitioners in the fitness industry, our industry is, in general, not progressive in nature, right? How can we reduce the likelihood of sexual harassment occurring in our interactions with clients?
CS: Well I think it’s really important to set some standards of behavior.
CS: Whether that’s how you’re going to behave with your clients, or how you want your team to behave, or the kind of behaviors that you expect from your clients.
CS: In the interactions that you have with them. Have some policies in place. Have some ways of doing business that define kind of what you will do if, so that you really are proactively thinking about what can happen. It can’t be discounted that really educating your team and yourself on how to handle challenging situations is really important. You know, perhaps there’s an opportunity for us to even create some sort of an event where, you know, many independent people can come together and, you know, kind of do something that’s more live action, or where folks can really ask questions. What I do find is that, once we open the door and start the conversation and allow people to ask questions, that’s where the learning really can occur, and they can really have it be tailored to what their particular situation is. Of course, you know, the bottom line is, we really want everybody to feel safe.
CS: Whether you’re the client, you want to be safe. Whether you’re the person delivering the service, you want to feel safe. If you own your own business, you certainly want the folks that come to your business to feel safe and the interactions that you have to be those that, you know, give people a good feeling about being in the business and feeling like there’s no threat there. Then, you know, letting people know, too, that if something happens that feels like it’s uncomfortable, or maybe it’s inappropriate, that it’s totally safe to escalate that situation and say, “You know what? I need to set a boundary here. This is not how I want to be feeling at this point in time. This makes me feel uncomfortable.”. Be sure that, as a practitioner, that you’re open to get that feedback. Someone tells you, “What you’re doing right now with me is making me feel uncomfortable”, that’s a great signal to stop. Hands off, and immediately stop and maybe even step back so that you’re physically away from that person and, you know, provide some space for that conversation to then take place.
MB: I completely agree with you. I think there is a lot of potential for, you know, you and I to possibly to something in the future with, you know, independent practitioners or studio owners. Especially in our space, in the fitness industry, because so much of what you’re talking about is so important. Part of what I love about what you’re saying is it’s proactive in nature. If you are communicating with your team, and communicating with clients, and you have, you know, boundaries and standards and policies as you’re suggesting, that it’s not this reaction to an incident after the fact. It’s, you know, trying to keep everyone in a safe space and in a healthy space from the get-go. I also appreciate this perspective that’s a little bit more big picture, where it’s not just about keeping your business safe, or keeping the practitioners safe, or keeping the clients safe. It’s about keeping everyone feeling safe. I think when we’re in the day-to-day of our business, and kind of get wrapped up in the minutiae, we miss that big picture thought, and empathy really serves the whole business and everyone involved, best. I would love to continue that conversation for all of our listeners and readers right now. Please throw us comments if this is something you are interested in, and we will do our best to make it happen.
CS: In addition, let me just add, that if you are a business owner, and you have proactively educated your team, and you do have policies and practices in place, and if there was ever a litigious situation, the fact that you’ve gotten in front of the conversation, actually totally works in your favor.
MB: In the courtroom.
CS: Just from a practical standpoint, if you really want to say to the world, “Hey, listen. We’ve tried to head this off at the pass”. Having some policies and practices in place, supported by training, really does say, “Oh, they already knew what they were doing.”. Perhaps the other party has more, you know, more skin in the game, in terms of trying to win something here, so.
MB: Right. I’m so glad you brought that up. I do run into trainers where, we’re usually talking more on the general liability side of things, where there is an urge to just stick their head in the sand, and want to avoid it because the thought, they think that planning for it or being proactive about it somehow is either a waste of time or putting them at greater risk. All the experts I continue to talk to, exactly reiterate what you’re saying, that when you’ve been proactive, you’ve done your best to create a safe environment on any level, it will serve you, you know, better in the end. I really appreciate that you’re being another voice to, you know, help these trainers and small business owners in that regard. I feel like you sort of covered this, so forgive me if I’m being a little bit redundant, and I think that this is a very difficult question to answer, so, you know, I’m aware of what I’m asking you, but how do we really know if sexual harassment has occurred, and what should be do about it?
CS: Well, I think we can’t get hung up on the word.
CS: Let’s start from a different place.
CS: If you feel uncomfortable.
CS: Then speak up.
CS: It may not be something that rises to the level of harassment. It may only be something that’s inappropriate.
CS: However, it doesn’t matter what it’s called, if you are uncomfortable. If you are uncomfortable, you need to say, “Hey, I’m uncomfortable. A boundary has been crossed.”. I think it’s also important that if you are delivering a service, that you let your clients know right up front that you are there to create a safe environment. If they ever feel uncomfortable, you want them to tell you that right away.
MB: I love that. I love that. Yes, yes.
CS: I reflect back on, I had a massage at some point in time, where the masseuse said at the beginning, “If there’s any way that I’m touching you that makes you feel uncomfortable or hurt, please tell me.”. I appreciated that, even though I like to have a massage that’s a little bit more vigorous. I think about it, if I was working with a trainer, or I was working with, you know, somebody in the fitness industry and they were asking me to do something, I would want to be able to say “that doesn’t feel right to me”, or, “it makes me feel uncomfortable”. You would do it with your body if you were straining it, but I think you also have to think of it in other ways, that, you know, if you’re coaching or guiding a client, and you’re touching them, and what might for them be a very personal space, they should be able to say, “I don’t want you to touch me there”.
CS: Or, “I don’t want you to have your hands on me”.
MB: Right. The trainer, and business owner/trainer’s awareness of that client might be experience that or feeling that at a different point, would make that communication so much easier for the client.
MB: If the trainer is aware, right, like, because many trainers are so comfortable with their bodies, and they aren’t, they don’t have any negative intent, but if they aren’t exercising that empathy for the client on a regular basis, they may miss that opportunity to make it easy for the client to communicate that. You know, “Can you show me instead of indicating on my back what you want me to do?”. Absolutely, I think, and it’s such a simple thing to do, and can make such a huge difference. I think that’s prefect advice for our industry.
CS: I do think, let me just add on one other thing to that.
CS: I would make it a practice to check in with the client every time.
CS: Because something may have shifted form the last time to this time.
MB: Yeah, yeah.
CS: Maybe they’ve had some sort of an interaction, you know. Everybody’s seen everything in the media about.
MB: Right, right.
CS: Touching and harassment and all different kinds of conversations, so maybe the client’s perspective has shifted. Checking in every single time and letting that client know every single time, “Please let me know if what we’re doing is OK. Is it OK if I touch you here?”. I think that would go a long way in building rapport, and building trust, and also eliminate any possibility of that client thinking that something in appropriate may be [Crosstalk][14:01].
MB: Yes. I agree. For any trainers out there that are feeling reluctant, because I can feel you.
CS: I know, I know.
MB: It really needs to be, I do it all the time, I even do it with clients that I’ve had for years, right? Its three seconds. It’s not a big thing, and even if every single time the client is saying back to you, “No, of course its fine”, it’s such a kind and considerate thing to still reiterate to them, right, because we don’t want to be lackadaisical with our long-term clients either. It’s exactly what you’re saying, Carol, you know, something may have come to the surface for them, and might have, you know, the climate of conversation on this topic right now, and they may have shifted. They may, you know, feel differently about it, or they may just appreciate that you are the consummate professional you are in behaving this way, and that may, you know, even strengthen their trust in you. I think this is really tremendous advice, and very timely and appropriate. You‘ve given, you know, our studio owners and trainers such great advice in this short call, in terms of how they should think about things and what they should do. Could you share with us one last thought on what studio owners and future studio owners should do to ensure they are creating a culture of respect?
CS: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think we can overlook how important it is to set the standards of behavior and define those right up front, right when people come aboard. Then watch how people are interacting. As the studio owner, you’ll want to pay attention to how your practitioners are interacting with your clients, and coach their behavior. If they’re not speaking to the person appropriately, or if they’re, you know, touching a client without getting permission first, coach them. Let them know that, for our studio, this is what our standard of behavior is, so that they really understand that you’re operating differently, that you want to create a different kind of experience.
CS: I would also say, you know, be sure that you coach folks around using jokes or more casual conversation. We don’t know how those could be misinterpreted, and, you know, something that might be a joke to a client one day may not be on another day. I like to refrain from getting into that, you know, joking, or, you know, bantering kind of place, because I think that can very quickly go sideways and be misinterpreted. That’s really where the vulnerability opens up both for the studio owner and for the client.
MB: Right. I think that’s a very important point in our field, because a lot of times, the nature of the gym, the nature of the relationship, can be much more relaxed, or feel less like a professional setting, so there is kind of more joking and less monitoring of conversation at times. Reminding ourselves to keep those professional standards and recognize, you know, even though we’re wearing, you know, workout clothes, we are to keep the conversation and relationship completely professional. Excellent advice. Thank you. Carol, this has been wonderful and so helpful, I think, to all of our trainers. We’ve gotten great feedback so far on this initiative on helping them with sexual harassment issues, and this is an absolute gem to share this with them. I would be honored to, you know, look at the feedback when we share it, do something in the future to help reach more of them and bring your expertise to them, so I hope you’d be open to that at some point.
CS: Absolutely. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to be in your community.
MB: Yes, you’re welcome. Would you please share how people can find you?
CS: Absolutely. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. My website is www.csemrad.com, and there’s an information contact sheet there that folks can send me questions or make any connections with me there. I’d love to help support the success of their business in any way possible.
MB: Wonderful. Now, we’re doing to have this information on all the different mediums that we post this on as well. Just scroll to the bottom and click on those and definitely please reach out to Carol for any questions or advice, or reach out to us as well. Thank you so much again for this call.
CS: Great. Thanks so much Michelle.
MB: Thanks Carol. Have a great day.