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Employee Engagement

#MeToo Opened Our Eyes, Now It’s Time to Change the Workplace

Bettina Deynes

Interim Chief Human Resource and Strategy Officer, Society for Human Resource Management

Let’s begin by stipulating that there is no upside to sexual harassment. It is a behavioral travesty that has been pervasive in societies for as long as there has been interaction between humans. And, unfortunately, it has survived. Actually, it has flourished because its victims have succumbed to a stigma of embarrassment, self-loathing and fear that has obstructed their desire and obligation to report incidents of such behavior to the proper authorities.

Coming forward

The reversal of this stigma is the upside to the #MeToo movement.

It only took a few brave, committed women to go public, albeit long after the incidents occurred, to begin to establish a turnabout in the long-standing stigma associated with reporting sexual harassment. The multiple high-profile accusations of apparently relentless attempts, many successful, to compromise the privacy, self-respect, and integrity of women (and people of all genders who’ve been victimized by predators) have motivated scores of others to go public with similar allegations. This is an upside to #MeToo.

A change in policy

Companies are now seriously reviewing and revising non-harassment policies that have been effectively dormant since their adoption, and those without such policies are suddenly raising their creation and adoption to a pinnacle level of priority. These policies are now including sharper enforcement “teeth,” objective investigation mechanisms and more severe disciplinary penalties for those determined to have behaved in an unacceptable and harassing manner.Many organizations are demonstrating that no one — especially so-called high-value or high-profile employees — is exempt from even the most drastic disciplinary action if found to be in violation of harassment policy. These are upsides to the #MeToo movement.

Most organizations are strengthening mandatory harassment training for all employees, including senior management, and requiring more frequent participation in these training exercises. More upsides to #MeToo. Stricter policies, organizational commitment to enforcing those policies, and more comprehensive training programs are only the beginning of an effective battle against sexual harassment in the workplace. The concerted effort to remove the stigma of victims associated with coming forward and forcefully reporting harassment and abuse is definitely a strong and welcome upside to the current #MeToo movement.

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