As the #MeToo movement recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, it is an appropriate time to review strategies for eliminating a plague that corporate America has suffered for decades: intolerable behavior by powerful people in our workplace.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
Let those numbers sink in — they are astonishing. Harassment prevention training has done very little to remedy this problem. Hotlines are relatively useless, while HR departments are not sufficiently equipped with state-of-the-art modern tools to facilitate and handle reports of misconduct, despite the best intentions of HR folks. Without a simple reporting system in place (that also can deter adverse conduct), employers will never know what is actually happening in their workplace and will never be able to create a safe and healthy work environment for all.
After practicing employment law for 13 years, and watching case after case of workplace misconduct unfold, it appeared to me that something different is needed to prevent workplace misconduct, a means to give victims a voice, and to bring a higher level of accountability to reporting, while empowering companies to more accurately and properly address instances of workplace misconduct.
The problem we need to solve is how to get from #MeToo to #NotMe so people no longer have to say #MeToo because we successfully have been able to impact behaviors and change the culture.
Like many other men, I have been inspired by the #MeToo movement and the strength displayed by the survivors and victims who spoke up.
I consulted a number of psychologists to better understand the mindset of survivors of harassment and I spoke with persons I knew who were victims of harassment. From my research, it became apparent that many women — no matter how powerful, famous or respected — all too often did not know how to react to harassment, felt ashamed about the experience, and did not have a support group to help them deal with the emotional impact of their experience. Instead of reporting, they attempted to move on with their lives. They worried that because they did not have a platform and supporters behind them, they feared they would suffer financially from the fallout. For those reasons and others, many never reported the workplace misconduct. This is simply unacceptable.
After speaking with a wide range of HR personnel, employment lawyers, and survivors of harassment, it seemed apparent that America’s work culture is in need of an epic paradigm shift. As seen from a variety of perspectives, we know that rote harassment training, agency complaints, and lawsuits do not end the workplace misconduct and harassment that a large number of women and others experience. In large part, this is because of negative workplace cultural norms that have been tolerated for too long. Many feel intimidated and frightened about the potential consequences of highlighting inappropriate behavior and actions.
The first step in shifting the conversation from #MeToo to the empowered #NotMe is, from my standpoint, I think that progress will be made only when we succeed in removing the “us against them” mentality. Employers and employees need to work together if we are going to break this cycle; we need to realize that when workplace harassment and bias end, it is a win-win for all parties. So, how might this be approached? Our answer is to equip employees with a fast, easy, and discreet way to report workplace misconduct and encourage them to use it. When we create an environment where individuals are empowered to speak up against harassment, where they do not have to fear to lose their jobs, where anonymity (under certain conditions) is eliminated and all parties are held equally accountable, we send a clear message that harassment is being taken seriously. In doing this, we ignite three powerful changes:
With easy and protected reporting, harassers — not victims — are identified, more easily investigated in a timely manner, and face consequences. Harassers — not victims — should be the ones fearful of losing their jobs; victims should feel empowered and protected in raising their concerns.
No one should ever have to say #MeToo again because today #TimesUp.