#MeToo On My Mind

By Dionysia Johnson Massie

There is no doubt that the workplace is filled with people of different sensibilities. It is where people with raunchy humor, those with more refined tastes, and others meandering somewhere between intersect in one place. The workplace is also where power dynamics exist — and persist — to define a unique workplace culture. People often align with the prevailing workplace culture in an effort to remain employed and/or to progress.

Employees and managers daily navigate these different sensibilities in efforts to create respectful and legally compliant workplace cultures. But, the #MeToo movement — with its high profile “call outs” in various industries across our country — reveals that collectively we have not effectively addressed the real, underlying tensions impacting the reasons that people do not speak up about workplace misconduct. These reasons are simultaneously simple and complex. On one hand, it is “simple” to locate a policy and to contact the appropriate managers, Human Resources personnel, or compliance hotline number to make a report. In this context, simple only means that it usually is not a complicated process to actually complete the task of making an initial report.

The more complex issues are all the considerations that go into whether to file a report. Here is where the real challenges begin. When considering the #MeToo movement and, particularly the Hollywood examples, there were emerging themes: people — often times young women but not exclusively — were passionate about their crafts; they were seeking more opportunities to advance in their careers; some had heard rumors of misconduct and developed strategies for navigating around it; others confided in friends about what happened to them and sometimes the fiends, also in the industry, encouraged them to remain silent to avoid derailing their careers. These considerations are real and are not limited to the entertainment industry. In any industry, a typical pattern exists: employees and managers often are seeking career enhancing opportunities while trying to navigate the norms existing within their particular workplace cultures. That is not a new pattern. Sometimes, however, the workplace norm is that current silence about misconduct ensures future workplace opportunities. These norms breed #MeToo workplace movements.

How do we disrupt patterns fueling the #MeToo movement in the workplace? Here are some useful strategies:

1.) Permit anonymous reporting. There are times when employers learn of misconduct through anonymous compliance lines or other means because employees (including managers) feel more comfortable reporting anonymously. Encourage reporting and keep the focus on the issue reported and not seeking to identify the person making the report.

2.) Support an ethical, “speak up” culture through policies and behavior. Ensure behaviors align with policy statements. This means — in regular team meetings at every level of the organization — emphasize the value of “speaking up” and the expectation that doing so is each person’s obligation. Demonstrate the importance of this value by ensuring people who raise good faith concerns are supported — and advanced — in the organization. The anecdote to silence is public examples of support.

3.) Don’t just train, teach. Invest in teaching leaders, managers and employees the concepts of sexual harassment, gender bias, respect in the workplace, equality, cultural inclusion and related theories. Provide real-life examples of how these concepts surface in the workplace and teach them how to see different perspectives. Seeing does not mean agreeing, but you often have to first recognize the presence of a challenge in order to address it effectively. AT

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