Is the #MeToo Movement the Tip of the Iceberg?

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It has been startling and infuriating over the last few months to see the emergence of story after story of women being sexually exploited by men in the workplace, whether that is the movie industry, music, the arts or indeed any other organisation or industry. The movement started as a result of the revelations in October 2017 against Harvey Weinstein and grew exponentially from there.

Of course, the range of allegations is broad, from very serious acts of sexual misconduct to lower level innuendo and name calling.  The #MeToo hashtag was created by Tarana Burke in order to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. And in fact 1 in 6 men state that they too have experienced sexual intimidation. In terms of workplace issues, I would also like to add bullying to the mix, as the prevalence of intolerance and intimidation is also unacceptable.

This kind of negative behaviour and attitude is morally wrong, bad for reputation and is, therefore, also bad for business.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for tackling sexual intimidation, bullying, or any other discriminatory act.  The ideal would be to flick a switch so that no new-born babies would ever be subjected to the indoctrination of culture or environment in order to facilitate the prejudice behind these behaviours, whether physical or psychological. Of course, that is not possible.

The only way to tackle these problems is by taking many, many small steps toward equity, equality and the absence of intimidation or judgement because of difference.

Such small steps might include: ensuring that educational and working environments are places of safety for everyone, that everyone is empowered to speak out when they see acts of prejudice, bullying or intimidation, that support networks are set up, communicated and operate effectively and confidentially.

Within our organisations, we need to have, for now, people who are explicitly responsible for Diversity and Inclusion, which, by inference, includes protection against bullying and abuse.

Only about 50% of senior managers and 39% of middle managers are currently engaged in diversity and inclusion activities (30% Club).

In order to call-out behaviours and attitudes which are not acceptable, the culture of organisations needs to change so that everyone sees diversity and inclusion as part of their job role.

The 30% Club attribute their success to a number of areas of activity and these areas apply across the board for creating a culture of safety and of being treated with respect whoever we are.  The applicable actions include:

  • supportive public policy that acknowledges that the status quo is unacceptable – building Diversity and Inclusion into legislation and the processes and systems that govern public and private organisations
  • change driven by those in power – CEOs, politicians, Vice-Chancellors, role-models
  • openness to collaborate – setting up multi-organisational Communities of Practice to work on mutual support and best practice
  • a concerted and consistent series of actions and programmes, from schoolrooms to boardrooms.

As with all culture change, it might be neither easy nor quick, but requires steadfast effort from the top and throughout the organisation.  A zero-tolerance stance to bullying and intimidation on whatever grounds is vital.  Rewards such as celebrating success on key diversity projects, and sanctions which result in tighter management control and supervision to support the introduction of a fairer environment. By planning and acting on these issues organisations will be far more successful as a result, due to having the benefit of all available talent and expertise.

By Dr Claire Collins

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