In light of the hashtag campaign #MeToo’s prevalence, what are employers’ roles and responsibilities in addressing sexual harassment in the workplace?
A hashtag campaign might be the last thing you would expect to be addressed in our Monday morning staff meetings, but this week our CEO and President, Rashaad Bajwa did just that. And not just any hashtag campaign, but one that broaches a difficult subject, especially in the tech world, an industry dominated by men. He admitted that it hadn’t crossed his mind to address #MeToo in the workplace until challenged to think otherwise. After all, it can be very intimidating for employers for a whole assortment of reasons, as Heather Landy, managing editor of Quartz at Work details in her article “Why More Bosses Aren’t Talking About Sexual Harassment“. Instead of making excuses, he bit the bullet and addressed a difficult subject.
While he made it clear it was not a topic that he had ever addressed in a staff meeting before, the prevalence of the #MeToo statuses in his newsfeeds compelled him to think differently about intentionally addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. His (and many other men’s) assumptions that men know how to address women as people, instead of objectifying them, had apparently proven to be less than accurate. Clearly, the adage “Boys will be boys” is still alive and well for a reason. He also wanted to prevent the unintended consequence of these sex scandals that is occurring in Silicon Valley from also happening among Integris employees.
The New York Times reported in Unintended Consequences of Sexual Harassment Scandals “ ‘A big chill came across Silicon Valley in the wake of all these stories, and people are hyperaware and scared of behaving wrongly, so I think they’re drawing all kinds of parameters,’ said a venture capitalist who spoke anonymously for the same reason. Some are avoiding solo meetings with female entrepreneurs, potential recruits and those who ask for an informational or networking meeting. ‘Before, you might have said, ‘Of course I would do that, and I will especially do it for minorities, including women in Silicon Valley,’ the investor said. ‘Now you cancel it because you have huge reputational risk all of a sudden.’ ”
But avoiding the situation doesn’t solve the problem, only deprives women of the equal opportunities they rightfully deserve because men are afraid and unsure how their words and actions will be perceived.
Introducing: the Rock Test
Tongue-in-cheek, The Rock Test: A Hack for Men Who Don’t Want to be Accused of Sexual Harassment on Medium lays out some excellent examples to highlight for men how “you too can interact with women as people. It’s as clear cut as this: Treat all women like you would treat Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson”. In other words, men, learn to control yourselves because women are human beings working hard to achieve goals and get ahead in the workplace, just like you. They deserve to be treated accordingly. And while as a woman, it’ll probably make you roll your eyes that men need to be reminded how to look at women as people, but the fact of the matter is, they do. Even more importantly, men who aren’t guilty themselves need to be reminded to stand up to the Harry Weinsteins of the workplace.
To prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, these conversations need to happen, not just with Human Resources after it’s too late, but in our boardrooms and at our staff meetings. We cannot expect to change the culture of the workplace, without talking about the issues that divide it. So start the conversation.
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