Joe Pisani: If you’re making a video on stereotypes, don’t cast stereotypes

Traditional men's wingtip in dark brown from Saks house label.

Traditional men's wingtip in dark brown from Saks house label.

Saks Fifth Avenue

I recently enrolled in a training program to prevent stereotyping, harassment, misperceptions, prejudice and a lot of other stuff.

You probably thought I worked in Human Resources, given my familiarity with technical terms such as “harassment” and “other stuff,” so the next time you encounter a professional who says your bill “includes a lot of other stuff,” rest assured she or he is worth whatever your insurance company will pay ... and more.

I took this training several times when I was the editor of a newspaper, where my staff begged for opportunities to learn new stuff, especially if there was coffee and doughnuts.

One of first things we were told is don’t date your “subordinates.” That’s an old-fashioned word. Now, they’re referred to as “direct reports.” And “date” is a euphemism for “hooking up.” In HR, it’s necessary to keep up with the latest jargon.

We also learned you should not have relationships with your sources (I almost said “spouses”), although judging from what I’ve read lately, that rule may now be unconstitutional or unimportant or unenforceable.

To my thinking, however, reporters shouldn’t get cozy with their sources. For example, the Fox News White House correspondent should not take Press Secretary Whatshername out for a romantic candle-lit dinner at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

During my recent training session, I had to cram a lot of stuff into my brain, such as don’t stereotype, don’t create a hostile work environment, don’t pressure employees into having sex in exchange for favorable treatment, don’t pressure employees into having sex at all. The rules are pretty straightforward, but judging from the lawsuits that come out of Corporate America, Hollywood, Wall Street, Big Tech and Government, you have to wonder whether they think the rules are just for the peons.

Everything was going well with my training until I came to a skit about Leon and Laverne (not her real or unreal name). Leon is Laverne’s boss and they probably work in an enlightened place like Twitter or Google, but let’s imagine it’s Congress.

This is where the story gets steamy. Leon starts hitting on Laverne. “Hitting on” is a legal term that means he wants to pressure her into going on a date with him to Chipotle and do things you can’t mention in a family newspaper unless it appears in the police blotter.

Leon promises her raises and better assignments. When that doesn’t get him what he wants, he promises her pay cuts and terrible assignments. (With four daughters, I’ve heard a lot about guys like Leon, especially at companies that claim to be working for the greater good of humanity.)

It’s obvious Leon should be fired and sent back to his favorite frat house, but the wheels of justice move slowly and sometimes they don’t move at all.

Here’s what troubled me. Leon is a bald middle-aged guy who wears sweater vests and wingtips. My first thought was “Yikes! That could be me!”

I took immediate action to save my reputation. I put my sweater vests and wing tips in a large box that I shipped to Goodwill. I couldn’t do anything about being bald because I can’t afford a hair transplant or toupee.

Laverne is ... well, the best comparison I can make is to say she looked like Paige Spiranac, and if you don’t know what she looks like, imagine the cover of Maxim magazine.

The people who created the video had a bald, pot-bellied geezer with a sweater vest from Walmart hitting on a young woman who looked like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. All I can say is “???!!!”

Why didn’t Leon look like Chris Hemsworth? Or Brad Pitt. Give us a break. Let’s avoid stereotypes in training videos that are supposed to train us to avoid stereotypes. Every woman enrolled in that class will probably call 911 whenever she sees a bald guy wearing a sweater vest.

We’re a much-maligned demographic, so don’t bludgeon us even more. And I beg bald guys everywhere to concentrate on their jobs and not on young women.

One of my daughters is a training and development director, and I’m taking my complaint to her. Then, I’m going to the pope, a bald guy who wears sweater vestments and knows a thing or two about other stuff.

Joe Pisani can be reached at