#MeToo in Your Workplace

Picture of Gina Blitstein Gina Blitstein combines her insight as a fellow small business owner with her strong communication skills, exploring topics that enhance your business efforts. That first-hand knowledge, matched with an insatiable curiosity to know more about just about anything, makes her a well-rounded writer with a sincere desire to engage and inform.

#MeToo in Your Workplace

Oftentimes when awareness is focused for the first time on a deeply entrenched, long-existing problem, public outcry makes it - initially at least - widely-publicized. After a time, however, the fervor wanes and the cause falls by the wayside in favor of the next cause du jour. The #MeToo movement was one such heated awareness campaign that overturned many rocks, exposing many creepy-crawly individuals perpetuating inappropriate behaviors, then simmered down to a dull roar. What did this vociferous movement actually accomplish for victims in the workplace?

Of course, the movement turned an attentive ear to the plight of victims of sexual harassment and misconduct into which to air their grievances. This public awareness has led to many of them getting justice for offenses committed against them. Let’s hope, however, that the effect of #MeToo does not end there; that there is a long-lasting - even permanent - impact from the exposure of inappropriate sexual conduct in the workplace. Let us hope that the awareness raised has led to a cultural sea change; one that will educate perpetrators that their behavior is, in no uncertain terms, wrong. One that will educate victims about what constitutes inappropriate behavior and what to do when they experience it. One that will see real, impactful policy revisions that will provide guidance and a measure of safety for those who fall victim to inappropriate behaviors.

The #MeToo Movement happened, in many ways, “out there,” being widely discussed and publicized in the media. The topic, however, affects everyone in business because it is all about those interpersonal relationships that exist and are forged in the workplace. Hopefully, these very public and large-scale discussions about appropriate language, actions and attitudes trickled down into smaller businesses and into less visible industries so that more and more victims are emboldened to speak out when they feel they have experienced sexual harassment or misconduct.

As a result of the outcry from #MeToo protesters, many businesses were compelled to review their own policies to enable victims to more easily - and with a sense of privacy and security - report inappropriate incidents.

Some of those actions taken by businesses in response to #MeToo include:

  • Trainings detailing the words, actions and attitudes that constitute sexual harassment and/or misconduct
  • Focus on company culture so that respect is built-in and humane treatment of coworkers does not need to be regulated by policy. This includes the importance of equal opportunity in the workplace for both women and men to lead and be in charge.
  • Open, non-judgmental communication with management so victims feel comfortable relating their experience
  • Clear complaint policies that ensure employees know exactly what experiences are appropriate to report, how, and to whom
  • Zero tolerance policies that provide no second chances to those accused of harassment and/or misconduct
  • Hiring policies that take into account previous work history pertaining to human resources complaints and personality issues

A significant issue with which businesses struggle is the way in which male employees comprehend #MeToo-related policies and changes to protocols. Some men experience a particular sensitivity to the new atmosphere, fearing that, even if innocent, they could be unjustly accused of harassment or misconduct. These men often react with hesitancy to mentor - or even work closely with - female coworkers. Your company policy on the subject should clearly address these men’s concerns so that you will not end up with a team unable to work together for fear of accusation.

And were these measures brought about by the #MeToo movement successful in helping victims - and potential victims - feel more comfortable about their company’s sexual harassment policies? According to The Society for Human Resource Management, a follow-up survey of more than 18,000 workers and supervisors showed that 1 in 3 executives had changed their behavior in the workplace following #MeToo and that 72% of employees were "happy with their employer’s efforts to stop sexual harassment."

Even though the #MeToo movement is not in the news on a daily basis anymore, hopefully because of it, awful secrets were exposed, lessons were learned, violators were brought to justice and significant changes were enacted to curtail inappropriate behavior and empower victims not to live in silence.

How has your business stepped up to protect your workers in the wake of the #MeToo movement?

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