The #MeToo movement has taken the country by storm, unifying women (and men) around the world who have encountered sexual harassment. I believe this is a defining moment in the workplace – a cultural shift to create a safer environment for all. But vigilance is still needed if we want changes to permanently take hold.
According to a recent poll of American voters, 60% of women and 20% of men have been sexually harassed, and it most commonly occurs in a professional setting. 88% agreed that sexual harassment of women is a problem. The #MeToo movement has demonstrated just how deep this goes — that sexual harassment is not incidental — it’s endemic. It’s challenging us to re-examine what “counts” as sexual harassment while recognizing its myriad forms.
Memo to companies: continue to do a better job of defining sexual harassment and educating your employees. Clearer definitions lead to being better able to identify experiences as sexual harassment. This will increase the number of people willing and able to come forward and report incidents. We need to give women — and men — the tools they need to protect themselves against harassment.
Employees, you must pay more attention to your own behavior. You may become cautious around colleagues for fear of crossing a line, but everyone who is engaging in this cultural shift and working to understand it will grow and improve their interactions.
Women especially must pay close attention to how they’re treated. We need to think critically about those “uncomfortable situations.” When harassed, we have to step up and say, “I don’t feel comfortable with how you’re treating me. Please stop.” When that request doesn’t put an end to it, feel empowered to report it and make sure it stops. More than ever, speak out and support one another in protecting ourselves against harassment.
With the firing of highly visible offenders in the media like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, organizations have shown the will to jettison “high-value employees” when they commit egregious acts. It is imperative that this trend continues. Otherwise indifference to employee suffering will increasingly lead to backlash in the workplace. To protect themselves, organizations need to immediately terminate employees who commit acts of sexual harassment and/or violence. No offender is worth protecting, no matter how talented. There are other equally talented people who can fill the position without putting a company at risk.
I emphatically support companies imparting more information to employees regarding legal protections against sexual harassment, along with procedures on how to document and report such behavior. Because of #MeToo, this information must be revisited regularly, and safety from sexual harassment must become part of company culture.
Organizations big and small now realize that covering up, supporting, and ignoring bad behavior is detrimental to their employees’ well-being and satisfaction, as well as the companies’ bottom line. #MeToo will forever change our workplace dynamics. As employees and companies re-evaluate, they will begin to work together to advance real social change.