Finding Your Voice in a Discriminatory Environment

The #metoo movement, borne out of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment allegations, has taken hold and become a battle cry for millions of women – and men – around the world to share their own very personal stories of humiliation and degradation.

Who knew that two little words could be so powerful? But it’s not just Harvey Weinstein and the entertainment industry that’s been exposed…it’s the Fox News sexual harassment scandals, and seemingly a daily barrage of stories of sexual misconduct in the news. Yes, it’s heartbreaking and crushing, but what I also find interesting is how – despite the public outcry spurred by torrid accounts of more and more celebrities via #metoo and other outlets – the topic of sexual harassment is still not regularly addressed in an organization.

Why is that?

I was reading some of the numbers yesterday on CNN. To date, about 4.7 million people around the world have written over 12 million posts on the #metoo hashtag on Twitter. The article went on to conclude that at least 45 percent of people in the U.S. are friends with someone who has posted on #metoo. This is disturbing and staggering.

If these numbers are real, shouldn’t we be talking about it in the workplace? Shouldn’t we be addressing these concerns as an organization? Maybe we don’t want to hear about it. Or maybe we are afraid to get fired for speaking up about discrimination and inclusiveness at work?

Whatever the reason, I really do believe that we all want to work in an inclusive workplace. If we are afraid to speak up about this subject, what else are we holding back? And how is that affecting the bottom line? If we withhold speaking about subjects that bother us, what kind of culture does that create? How does it affect innovation because we are not nimble enough to be transparent with everyday issues? If we as individuals do not talk about it or address it, what kind of message does that send to the top talent that we are trying to hire?

Transparency and more voices are good for an organization. We shouldn’t take these movements for granted. These movements are more than simply recognizing that harassment in the workplace exists, but should be seen as a call to action. These insidious patterns of behavior need to be rooted out, not swept under the rug. How do we take these stories and do something with these numbers? Well, I think we need to show that organizations are supportive of the cause, and we are not going to stand idly by when harassment or discrimination occur:

Accountability: When these things happen, we should keep these people accountable. We need to step up and shift the power from them. As long as we just stand by and ignore it, it is giving them more power to behave badly in the workplace and that’s unacceptable. We are better than that.

Speaking up: I think one of the issues I have seen with organizations is the tendency of employees to be silent or bury the truth in order to protect the brand. Personally, I would have more respect for organizations that speak up and are transparent. Can you imagine if an organization addressed these types of allegations publicly? By letting the public know what happened and own the story to show that they are unequivocally supporting the victim and will not tolerate such behavior? I would love to work for an organization with that reputation.

Reporting: People should be encouraged and feel comfortable to report an incident, without retaliation.

Network: Having a network that promotes transparency and openness. When you are part of a group, you feel like you have more power and can make a difference.

Data: Most organizations collect data on climate and how happy they are with their job and their supervisor on an annual basis. Why are we not collecting data about discrimination? Why not show people that we really care and want to hear how people are affected?

I think inaction in the face of harassment and intimidation is unthinkable when we all have the power to speak up and demand change in the workplace. Why not use your voice to echo those that had the courage to speak up?

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