#MeToo Isn’t Just About Me – It’s About You, Too.
July 4th, 2018 | By Jessica Jenkins
Since I entered the corporate workforce just over five years ago, I can unfortunately say that I have had multiple first-hand experiences with workplace sexual harassment, and have been witness to several others. As a young woman in the IT world, it may come as no surprise that I have worked in mostly male-saturated work environments, which I suppose posed a higher risk of such interactions than in other industries. The result is that I have gained some unfavourable credibility in this area.
It was to my relief that in October 2017, #MeToo arose from the wreckage of sexual harassment in the American film and arts industry. Since, the movement has grown exponentially, effectively empowering widespread expos of #MeToo from women across various industries and geographies. Although I am comforted by knowing I am not alone, I am also disturbed by that same fact. I have regrettably come to understand that the state of the workplace portrayed by #MeToo is all too true: workplace sexual harassment is much, much more prominent than we would hope or suspect.
I can say with near certainty that there exists not a single organization that is immune to sexual harassment (barring some unknown exceptional utopian workplace). This is for the simple reason that organizations cannot expect to control the actions of individuals, nor should they be expected to be able to rule out at-risk candidates when hiring – especially when candidates otherwise appear to be perfectly personable, capable, and intelligent people.
Despite this fact, there has been a lack of visible change from organizations in response to #MeToo, which is both surprising and disappointing. With the exception of a couple of encouraging items in the news – such as Microsoft’s abolishment of forced arbitration agreements, or Campbell Soup’s increased PR on diversity and inclusion with an emphasis on female leadership – organizations seem to largely be laying low. I suspect that the silence and inaction is due to an organization’s perception of immunity or simply not knowing how to proceed. As witness to the truth of the latter, I have seriously contemplated how organizations can approach responding to the demand for change.
I never came forward about some incidents for fear of unintended consequences that would result – a tarnishing of reputation, discomfort in my workplace, displacement of my day-to-day, inability to focus on my job, and diminishing of my mental-emotional state. For the incident I did come forward about, most of the unintended consequences I was so afraid of – unfortunately – actualized. I cannot stress enough how critical it is for organizations to leverage the experience of people like me to be able to anticipate and address these concerns. I understand that it simply isn’t possible to prevent sexual harassment entirely. However, organizations can and should invest in becoming sufficiently proactive and effectively reactive. Here are a few examples of how:
- Do not assume immunity or the sufficiency of your status quo – Take the pulse on the perceived frequency and severity of sexual harassment in your organization before deciding what degree of change is necessary.
- Review and revise your relevant policies – Revisit internal policies to ensure they comply with local and federal legislation, and reflect the evolving values of the organization. Comprehensive policies and procedures will be the foundation for change.
- Cultivate the opportunity to change company culture – Foster a culture of understanding, prevention, and resolution of sexual harassment. Employee education, policy transparency, and complainant aids are a must; but, simply breaking the silence on the topic is a good start.
- Act by educating, training, and enforcing – Policies are great, but not effective if not communicated, embedded everyday work, and enforced when necessary. Educate your employees on what constitutes sexual harassment and your organization’s process for addressing such behaviour. Equip them with aids to recognize sexual harassment, professionally decline sexual advances, communicate discomfort, report inappropriate behaviour, and cope with the investigation process. Act with due diligence from the point of incident to investigation closure to ensure confidence in the process.
I cannot point to a case study in which the above recommendations have proven effective; but I know they would have changed things for me. I wholeheartedly believe they can also change things for organizations – I have witnessed the unfortunate consequences of organizations being immature in their approach. By implementing the above measures, organizations should expect both short- and long-term benefits, including the following:
- Employee retention – By creating an inclusive, comfortable, and stable work environment, organizations can expect increased employee engagement; and therefore, increased employee retention. This will save the exponentially greater cost of talent acquisition, and mitigate the organizational disruption of high turnover.
- Talent attraction – With the increasing ability for candidates to evaluate workplace cultures with resources such as Glassdoor, it is critical for organizations to foster an authentic culture of care to compete in the talent market and remain competitive.
- Brand preservation and promotion – As consumer tendencies increasingly favour companies who are socially responsible, organizations may be able to promote their support of #MeToo to promote itself as the socially conscious organization that loyal consumers seek.
- Diversity of leadership – The positive influence of diversity among teams – and especially executive teams – has been well documented. Attracting and retaining female talent can help drive more effective teams and results.
- Improving the bottom line – The cumulative effects of talent acquisition cost savings, avoiding lost productivity from turnover, higher customer satisfaction, and a stronger leadership team will ultimately drive an organization’s bottom line.
I fear that with continued inaction, the movement would slowly become white noise, joining the ranks of words like feminism in being perceived by some as a “dirty” term. This pains me, because it is so critical that organizations take full advantage of the opportunity that #MeToo presents – both for the good of society and themselves. Not only is addressing sexual harassment the humane thing to do, but organizations can expect a promising ROI from doing so. It is time that organizations start looking at this as an investment in themselves and their communities. The benefits are indiscriminate of industry, business strategy, organizational size or culture, and may have a higher ROI than expected.
Jessica Jenkins is currently a Sales professional in the Information Technology industry. She brings influences from her undergraduate degree in Sociology to her professional world of IT, and is passionate about creating opportunities and developing programs for social impact within the workplace and beyond. Jessica lives and works in Toronto, and loves to travel to learn about different cultures around the world.