We have a beautiful 28-gallon fish tank in our living room with a variety of fish, including Mollies. I don't know much about fish, so when the lady at the pet store said we needed to keep a ratio of one male Molly to three females, I took her word at face value. She sold us one adult male, two adult females, and two baby females.
Everything was fine until one adult female and one baby female died.
Then the male Molly began to chase the remaining female continually. She couldn't get a moment's rest: he was always right there.
This lasted for a couple of days, and then we went back to the pet store and bought another adult female. I felt somewhat guilty putting her into the tank with a known harasser. And true to his form, he chased her around for a day, while the other female got a rest. But two days into it, and the tank has returned to harmony. All three adult Mollies interact, but there isn't constant chasing.
As an HR person, I couldn't help comparing this to office-based sexual harassment. Now, of course, there are some differences. These are fish. Their little fish brains don't give them the luxury of free will. Additionally, if this were the office, I would have fired the male right after he started spending all his time chasing the lone adult female. Of course, I'd probably be in jail for having two employees die within a short time, but I digress.
But, here's what I learned.
There is strength in numbers
The only thing that changed in the fish tank was the number of female Mollies. Now, this is not to say that we expect men to behave like boorish fish unless they are outnumbered. Of course, they don't. And, in my experience, most men are kind and polite and helpful, but when there are more women around, it makes a shift in the environment.
There are plenty of stories of people mistaking the female boss for the receptionist. The more women in the office, the less likely this mistake is.
Women need to help other women
As soon as we let the new female into the tank, the male latched on and started following her, leaving the long term tired fish a chance to rest. But, after a few hours, the females started swimming together.
Ideally, women should be supportive of each other. This is not an us versus them situation--at least it shouldn't be. But, mean girl behavior is a real phenomenon--not just in 7th grade but in the office. It shouldn't be. Plenty of women knew what Harvey Weinstein was up to and they ignored it because it wasn't happening to them or they were afraid to stand up to him as well. It shouldn't be that way. We help everyone.
My fish tank is back to being a peaceful, beautiful environment. And, in reality, it's even more beautiful because the new Molly is bright orange--a color we hadn't had before. More diversity can be a beautiful thing.